Coalition launches to defeat State Question 744
By Patrick B. McGuigan
The “One Oklahoma Coalition” representing both business interests and the state’s largest public employee group formally launched its drive to defeat State Question 744, a ballot initiative to mandate at least $850 million new spending for common education. The measure is slated for the November 2010 statewide election. The initiative came to the ballot as a result of a petition drive by the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest labor union.
Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said his members believe passage of the initiative would result in closure of veterans’ centers and corrections facilities, and devastating impacts on other programs. He said provisions of S.Q. 744 would mandate at least 20% in additional budget cuts to state agencies, in the immediate aftermath of the worst state budget crunch in modern history.
Zearley said his group’s analysis is that if the ballot initiative passes, eight or nine corrections facilities would have to close. Also “at risk” would be bonding options for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, because “the state revenue stream would be seriously cut,” Zearley concluded.
Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Mike Spradling spoke on behalf of the state’s largest agri-business organization. “Our board of directors has made a commitment to this effort. Passage of State Question 744 would raise taxes, revoke vital farm tax exemptions and credits, and threaten the OSU School of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa, among other things. It is a flawed concept. It is ridiculous to tie Oklahoma’s spending to what is done in other states where needs and priorities are different than here,” Spradling said.
Spradling continued, “We need Oklahoma to pull together, not pull apart. Instead of working against one another as this ballot initiative compels, let’s work together to make Oklahoma better.”
Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber, declared firm opposition to the measure. Because the initiative only addresses K-12 education funding, “all other aspects of education would have to be cut,” Morgan said. Morgan said “working together rather than against each other is better than this initiative.” He continued, “We believe State Question 744 is a job killer. It is having a destabilizing effect on state business.”
Morgan said supporters of the initiative “have not put forward any plan” to address parts of the state budget that would be slashed if the initiative passes. Morgan said, “There is nothing that business leaders dislike more than instability.” He said passage of S.Q. 744 would be “a formula for instability.”
In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, campaign manager Jeff Wilson indicated early polling data indicates if an election were held today, the initiative might pass. That’s why, he said, voter education is so crucial in the coming months.
Morgan noted that education spending is already 41% of the state budget, and that instead of passing this initiative in isolation, the government should look at all levels of education in terms of both funding and additional reforms.
Wilson promised the coalition would develop “a very strong campaign committee, and that opposition themes would be communicated through “television, radio, print and other advertising.” Campaign officials declined to speculate on the effect S.Q. 744 might have on “down ballot” initiatives. Morgan said, “most state questions don’t deal with this kind of mandate.”
Oklahomans for Responsible Government is a member of the One Oklahoma Coalition. In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, OFRG executive director Brian Downs said his group would provide “a grass roots component to the coalition. We’ve already made presentations all over the state. Our job is to educate voters ‘where they live’ in the towns and cities of Oklahoma.”
Elaborating on OFRG’s activities, Downs said the group is taking presentations “on the road” to civic and advocacy groups. “When the people go to vote in November, we want them to know exactly the devastating effect this proposal will have on the future of our great state.”
Downs continued, “I am pleased to see such diverse groups participating in the One Oklahoma Coalition to show their opposition to State Question 744 on the ballot in November. By having business and labor together, tax consumers and taxpayer advocates, it shows a united front against this devastating measure.” OFRG’s website devoted to the ballot initiative is www.STOP744.com.
Groups active in the One Oklahoma Coalition include the Farm Bureau, OPEA, State Chamber, the TRUST Road and Bridge Coalition, the Tulsa Metro Chamber, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, and OFRG.