BY DAVID PERRYMAN
With a plot that bounced between 1955 and the year 1985 – Back to the Future’s twist on time travel captivated the minds and imagination of moviegoers 32 years ago. The quest of the lead characters, Marty McFly and Emmett “Doc” Brown, was to restore the “fabric of the space time continuum” that they themselves had inadvertently disrupted.
That common theme resulted in two popular sequels that included scenes set in 1885 and a then “futuristic” 2015. Repeatedly, the pair called upon the time traveling DeLorean with its flux capacitor to preserve the progeny [and sometimes the ancestry] of the Brown or McFly genealogical lines.
The movies illustrate that the ability to tinker with the past impacts the present and devastates the future. Nonetheless, we tinker, we manipulate and we suffer the unintended consequences.
Last week the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in a case involving the constitutionality of a statute that made a 1¼ cent sales tax applicable to automobile sales.
To understand how the court’s decision is similar to the pursuits of Marty and Doc, we simply need to review a bit of history. For Oklahoma’s first 85 years our Constitution has contained requirements that “bills for raising revenue” must originate in the House of Representatives and must not be passed during the last five days of session. During that era, people elected legislators to decide when to raise revenue or when to decrease revenue.
Unfortunately, by 1989, Oklahoma’s per pupil expenditures had dropped to 46th while teacher’s salaries had slid to 48th in the country. In response, 1990 saw what may be one of the proudest accomplishments in Oklahoma legislative history when Democrats and Republicans, during the administration of Republican Gov. Henry Bellmon, stepped up and enacted true reform for public education and education funding in the form of HB 1017.
For a time, it appeared that Oklahomans and their elected officials truly cared about their state and the future of their children.
The success of HB 1017 launched a movement that ultimately assumed control of Oklahoma government and continues to guide public education down a path of destruction. In 1991, anti-public education groups, seeking to seeking to reduce teacher pay and remove the cap on class size, had SQ 639 placed on the ballot to repeal HB 1017.
By the slim margin of 54.3% to 45.7% and despite the support of the editorial board of the state’s largest newspaper, Oklahoma voters preserved the reforms of HB 1017. However, those numbers emboldened education opponents who charted another path toward their goal.
Shortly thereafter, they had gathered enough signatures to place SQ 640 on the ballot to require that all revenue raising bills must either be passed by a vote of the people or the approval of 75% of both the House of Representative and the Senate and the signature of the governor.
The passage of SQ 640 in 1992 signaled that the majority of Oklahomans were serious about restricting the ability of legislators to increase revenue. It is often said that the restriction is an insurmountable impediment; some see it as insurance that fiscal needs must be real and urgent before addressed. Others believed that it could foster bipartisan cooperation.
So did SQ 640 work to allow bipartisan solutions? The 2017 legislative session was the real test. Oklahomans demanded more revenue for the classroom and for teacher pay. Legislative leaders proposed a cigarette tax for health care and a vehicle sales tax for general revenue. Conventional wisdom was that the taxes needed 76 votes in the House to pass. While the majority party had 72 votes, only around 55 members of the majority party would vote for those revenue measures.
The 26 members of the minority party saw an opportunity to use SQ 640 as a tool to negotiate an increase in the gross production tax to pay for things like teacher pay raises in return for their vote on a the tax increases proposed by the majority party.
The result was that the minority party was not allowed to negotiate. The majority party pushed through a cigarette tax and a vehicle sales tax. The court has held one constitutional and the other unconstitutional.
We are back to the future, where we began. Gross production tax increases will not be considered unless the majority party allows it. The court’s decision has made the minority party irrelevant and the future of our state depends on the majority party … and the voters of Oklahoma.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House