All six Oklahoma state questions — in 800 words
Published: November 2nd, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY — A half dozen state questions will be decided on Oklahoma’s November 6 ballot.
Below is a short one-sentence description for each proposition. Each is a constitutional amendment. Voters will see on the ballot itself a summary of each proposal running a few hundred words. The full text appearing on ballots can be previewed here:
S.Q. 758 would limit the annual increase in property taxes to a maximum of 3 percent, rather than the 5 percent annual increase cap now in place.
The leading advocate of the proposition is state Rep. David Dank, who crafted the amendment along with former state Sen. Jim Reynolds. The measure came to the ballot with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature and has not attracted significant opposition.
S.Q. 759 would ban affirmative action programs in government employment, education and contracting with some exceptions, with the exceptions including enforcement of existing court orders and consent decrees, to keep or maintain federal funds, or when gender is a bona fide qualification for a job.
This proposition has drawn sharp criticism in commentaries from progressive organizations and leadership, including Nathaniel Batchelder of the Peace House in Oklahoma City, and Democratic state Sen. Connie Johnson. Among other points, critics of the measure say it is “a solution in search of a problem.” Despite passionate statements, foes never organized a substantial opposition drive.
Supporters of the measure contend it is time to make public policy truly color blind, pointing out the proposition is patterned on race-neutral provisions in other state constitutions.
S.Q. 764 would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds, and to maintain a reserve fund for limited purposes.
This issue is one part of a broad effort to improve the state’s water supply infrastructure. While no intense opposition has emerged, some analysts worry about granting any state agency, including the OWRB, fresh bonding authority.
S.Q. 765 would abolish the constitutional requirement for a state Department of Human Services (DHS), its governing commission and the position of DHS director.
State Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, who has led the push for DHS reform in the wake of shocking child deaths and injuries, pressed for approval of the measure in a state Capitol press conference on November 2.
Confusion about the issue flows from the fact that the new constitutional language is summarized on the ballot, but the statutes enacted to preserve the functions of the agency – albeit with leadership chosen by the governor rather than a commission – are not referenced in the ballot language.
A good deal more news coverage, including on the CapitolBeatOK.com website, has been devoted to the remaining two state questions: S.Q. 762 and S.Q. 766.
S.Q. 762 would remove the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders, leaving that function to the Pardon and Parole Board.
This proposal is an important part of the “Justice Reinvestment” initiative designed to shift resources from lengthy imprisonment of non-violent felons and toward treatment and alternatives to incarceration.
Gov. Mary Fallin supported the proposition when it passed the Legislature easily two years ago. When an attorney general’s opinion found the measure could only be enacted as a constitutional amendment, the measure again prevailed easily in the Legislature, garnering only a handful of opposition votes.
In recent weeks, however, the District Attorney’s Council broke against the measure. In mid-October, Gov. Fallin reversed her prior support, saying that until further reforms are implemented at the Pardon and Parole Board “now is not the right time for the governor’s office to be removed from its oversight role.”
Support for S.Q. 762 remains strong from several conservative Republicans, including sponsors state Sen. Josh Brecheen of Coalgate and House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee.
S.Q. 766 would exempt all intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation.
This question has drawn more advertising resources and more news stories than all the other ballot measures combined. If approved by voters next week, the amendment would effectively reverse a state Supreme Court decision allowing taxation on many “intangible” property items.
The Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce is the leading advocate for passage, asserting enactment is the only way to avoid millions of dollars in new taxation on businesses and individuals.
Opposition has come from some school district superintendents and in commentaries from the state’s leading progressive “think tank,” the Oklahoma Policy Institute, which contends the amendment is broader than necessary and would cost school districts $50 million or more.
Muddying the waters for advocates of S.Q. 766 is recent controversy in the aftermath of a letter to the editor supporting the measure, purportedly from former University of Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer. After it was printed in The Norman Transcript, Switzer immediately disavowed the missive. The state Chamber issued an apology for submitting the letter without confirming Switzer’s agreement.