AG producers join to oppose State Question 744
CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
Numerous agriculture producers and rural Oklahoma advocacy groups held a press event with the One Oklahoma Coalition, the group working to defeat State Question 744, in Enid today (Wednesday, July 21) to detail the devastating consequences State Question 744 would likely have on rural Oklahoma and agricultural industries.
Mike Spradling, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau opened the comments after background was given on the question saying, “There are two reasons why ag producers in Oklahoma should vigorously oppose State Question 744. One, it will likely lead to massive increases in property taxes – the lion’s share of which will be paid by rural Oklahoma. Second, it will likely lead to the elimination of ag sales tax exemption.
“We are still an agricultural state, and the property tax increases that 744 will likely force will disproportionately hurt rural Oklahoma and rural Oklahoma’s economy.”
Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers and Ranchers, also former school administrator agreed saying, “As a former school administrator, I understand the concerns we have with funding education. However, a $1 billion annual government spending mandate that is saddled on the backs of farms and ranches across this state – and at the expense of all other areas of state government – is wasteful and a terrible way to try and move this state forward.”
Jeff Wilson, campaign manager to the One Oklahoma Coalition, provided background on a state house budget committee hearing last fall, which was convened to estimate the financial impact of SQ 744. At the hearing, testimony was provided on what the impact of an across-the-board 20 percent budget cut to all areas of state government, outside of common education, would be.
Wilson has been guiding efforts to defeat S.Q. 744, an initiative brought to the ballot as the result of an initiative petition drive led by the state’s largest labor union, the Oklahoma Education Association.
These draconian cuts were anticipated as the most likely outcome state lawmakers would have to pursue in order to pay for the estimated $1 billion increase in spending that would be required under SQ 744.
Because the blank check provided by SQ 744 does not identify a funding mechanism to pay for the increased spending, state lawmakers would likely have to increase income or sales taxes, possibly as high as 40 percent, or implement budget cuts to other agencies of at least 20 percent across-the-board.
Discussing the anticipated affects of the SQ 744 on rural healthcare, Dr. Barry Pollard an ag producer and general surgeon talked about the impact to the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority of a 20 percent cut. He explained state house budget staff estimated it would be equivalent to $196 million in state dollars plus another $343 million in federal matching dollars for a total of $539 million reduction in state health dollars.
“We are talking about dramatic reductions to Medicaid services for seniors and all Oklahomans who depend upon SoonerCare,” said Pollard.
“We already have one of the worst ratios in the nation in number of physicians serving our rural communities. Legislation that has been advanced to help recruit physicians to settle in rural communities would be wiped out,” said Pollard.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Policy Institute released new numbers for the impact of SQ 744. According to the institute, spending on common education would have to increase by nearly $1.7 billion over the measure’s three-year phase-in period.
OK Policy further stated given the state must also replace more than $1 billion in non-recurring revenue in its base budget, passage of SQ 744 would require deep spending cuts to the rest of state government, substantial tax increases or both.
The group closed by urging voters to closely examine what SQ 744 would really mean to Oklahoma’s future – higher taxes and more cuts to vital state services. They urged voters to get involved in supporting the One Oklahoma Coalition by visiting their website at NoSQ744.com.
In Enid, Wilson concluded the “ag-oriented” briefing with a question he believes voters need to think about.
“If you do not raise taxes or cut government services – where will the funding come from? It’s a simple question that voters should demand a straightforward answer from those pushing for SQ 744,” said Wilson.