By Patrick B. McGuigan
NOTE: This is eleventh in a series of articles on Oklahoma’s statewide measures. CapitolBeatOK will be examining all the state questions on the November ballot. Pat McGuigan is the author of “The Politics of Direct Democracy: Case Studies in Popular Decision Making.” He was a featured speaker at this year’s Global Forum on Direct Democracy.
State Question 754 could be described as the “anti-State Question 744,” because it allows voters, potentially, to negate the other state question (if it passes).
Whereas State Question 744 would establish a permanent mandate for higher levels of education funding based on the amounts spent in surrounding states, State Question 754 would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to declare that “the Legislature shall not be required to make expenditures for any function of government using a predetermined formula of any kind or by reference to the expenditure levels of any other state government or any other entity.”
State Rep. Leslie Osborn, a Republican from Tuttle, authored the legislation sending the question to the voters, concerned that the large price tag associated with State Question 744 (as much as $1.7 billion according to one analysis) would require massive tax increases or arbitrary cuts to core government services such as roads or public safety programs.
Osborn argued that the measure was also necessary to maintain Oklahoma citizens’ control of the Oklahoma state budget, noting that State Question 744’s language outsourced control of many budget decisions to legislators and judges in surrounding states.
“The Oklahoma Constitution was designed to ensure the people had a voice in how their tax money was spent,” Osborn said in a press release. “This legislation simply continues that guarantee by spelling out that the elected representatives of all the people of Oklahoma will be responsible for state spending decisions.”
Under State Question 754, the Legislature would be required to consider Oklahoma's fiscal health and economy when making appropriations and would not be bound by what critics of S.Q. 744 characterize as “unfunded mandates.”
Osborn called the proposal a “common-sense measure that requires Oklahoma’s state budget to be based on the actual funds available and an accurate assessment of the state’s needs, not an arbitrary and random formula developed by outside special interest groups.”
House Joint Resolution 1014, which sent State Question 754 to the ballot, was endorsed by several groups, including the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, The State Chamber of Commerce, and groups supporting better roads and bridge funding.
Oklahomans for Responsible Government (OFRG) also endorsed the measure.
“State Question 744 takes education spending out of the hands of state lawmakers and puts it into the hands of those in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas,” said Brian Downs, OFRG Executive Director, in a press release.
In 2009, House Joint Resolution 1014 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a bipartisan 65-29 vote and passed the Oklahoma Senate 26-22.
Opponents of HJR 1014 claimed it was designed to confuse the voters.
In an April 25, 2009 article, Oklahoma Education Association President Roy Bishop told the Tulsa World the measure was “an end run” around State Question 744. The teachers’ union was responsible for the petition resulting in State Question 744.
If voters approve both State Question 744 and State Question 754, the measure receiving the most votes would take effect, according to advocates and some analysts of state law. However, officials expect a legal challenge is likely if both pass.