Group says Boren tax hike petition violates state Constitution, should not be on ballot
Published: November 12th, 2015
OKLAHOMA CITY – The head of a nonpartisan advocacy organization on Thursday (November 12) filed a formal protest with the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Initiative Petition 403, the proposal by University of Oklahoma President David Boren to fund teacher salary increases by making Oklahomans pay the nation’s highest sales tax burden.
“This ballot petition is a classic, textbook example of logrolling,” said Dave Bond, CEO of OCPA Impact, a group based in Oklahoma City. “Oklahoma teachers definitely deserve a pay raise, but that’s not what the challenge we filed today on this ballot petition is about.
“The reason we’re filing this challenge today with our state’s highest court is because Oklahoma voters need to know there’s a lot more in President Boren’s ballot petition than just a one-cent sales tax increase and a teacher pay raise.”
Bond and OCPA Impact offered an alternative plan to fund teacher salary increases — and hire 1,000 additional classroom teachers — by eliminating portions of over $617 million in identified wasteful or nonessential state government spending.
“A strong majority of Oklahomans want a pay raise for teachers, to reward and retain the people making a difference in the lives of children in the classroom,” Bond said. “This can and should be done without a misleading, unconstitutional money grab.”
Bond contends Initiative Petition 403, filed in October, violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s single-subject rule because it contains at least four distinct subjects.
Subject #1 — Teacher pay raise: The first general subject of the petition is a $5,000 pay raise for public school teachers. Numerous public opinion surveys have found that a significant majority of Oklahoma voters favor higher teacher pay.
Subject #2 — Unrelated funding: However, in order to secure the pay raise for teachers, the voters will have to agree to a tax increase from which over 40 percent of the money will be used to fund projects other than teacher salaries. This separate money, unrelated to teacher salaries — much of it unrelated to common education – is the second subject of the petition.
Subject #3 — Sales tax: The third subject of the petition is that voters who favor the teacher pay raise must accept that it would be funded through a 22-percent increase of the state sales tax rate. After taking into account municipal and county sales taxes, along with the state’s current sales tax rate of 4.5 percent, the Boren tax increase would give Oklahoma the nation’s highest average combined state-and-local sales tax burden — 9.7 percent — according to the Tax Foundation.
As well, Tulsa and Oklahoma City would have the third- and fourth-highest sales tax burdens, respectively, among major U.S. cities, trailing only Chicago and Seattle.
Subject #4 — State appropriations process: The fourth subject is that the petition would force voters who favor the teacher pay raise to accept a restructuring, within the state’s Constitution, of the state government appropriations process. The state Board of Equalization — an executive-branch entity — would have the authority to instruct the Legislature on how to fund education and nearly all other areas of state government.
The group contends that the Boren tax increase petition clearly violates the one-general-subject rule of Article XXIV, Section 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution.
By comparison, in 2004, Oklahoma voters approved the creation of the Oklahoma Lottery, from which some revenues were to be used to help fund education.
However, the Lottery was presented to voters in the form of two separate ballot questions.
The first, State Question 705, created the Oklahoma Lottery Commission for the purpose of operating the new state lottery.
The second, State Question 706, created the Oklahoma Education Lottery Trust Fund, to serve as the conduit for a portion of lottery proceeds to fund education.
As the brief filed by Bond and OCPA Impact contends, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has opposed logrolling in the past on the grounds that “voters should not have to adopt measures of which they really disapprove in order to embrace positions that they favor.” Bond and his allies assert it is clear the petition for the Boren tax increase is not legally sufficient to be submitted for a vote of the people, and the Court should not allow the petition to advance to the signature-gathering stage.
“The traditional concept of logrolling is that you roll up something people like with something they don’t like,” Bond said. “They vote for the thing they like, such as a pay raise for teachers, but end up getting saddled with the thing they weren’t as favorable toward, such as having to pay the highest sales tax burden in the nation.”
Bond said a better way to increase teacher salaries is to eliminate some of the $617 million in wasteful or nonessential state spending, achievable without hurting what are generally considered core services, and use the savings to raise teacher salaries and hire 1,000 more teachers.
The National Education Association estimated Oklahoma had 42,027 classroom teachers during the 2014-15 school year, with an average salary of $44,628.
To give every teacher a $5,000 pay raise and hire another 1,000 teachers at an average salary of $49,628, using a multiplier of 1.5 to estimate benefits, would cost $284.5 million.
For a list detailing what tax hike critics contend is wasteful and nonessential spending in Oklahoma’s state government, totaling $617.3 million – which Bond and his allies say could be eliminated to fund teacher pay raises and hire more classroom teachers — visit www.StopHigherTaxesOK.com.
Note: OCPA Impact is a separate organization from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the free-market think tank.