To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Observercast

Questions, Answers

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The Observer urges Oklahoma voters to defeat five of the six proposed constitutional amendments on the general election ballot.

Only SQ 762 – which would remove the governor from the parole process involving non-violent offenders – is worthy of support. The others are either bad public policy or bald-faced power grabs by the state’s wealthy corporatists – or both:

SQ 758 is appealing, at first blush. It would lower from 5% to 3% the annual cap on property tax increases. Good news for those on fixed incomes or struggling to make ends meet, right?

Actually, it would put Oklahoma on the same slippery slope as California with its Prop 13 that has plunged the once-Golden State into fiscal chaos – a $16 billion budget deficit that is crippling vital state services.

It would be dangerous to further tie the hands of Oklahoma’s elected leaders. Thanks to SQ 640, it’s virtually impossible already to raise taxes, no matter how grave the emergency. SQ 758 would make matters much worse.

Among the casualties would be the state’s already underfunded public schools – it would cost $6.5 million the first year from a system already 49th in teacher salaries and 47th in student finding.

Recommendation: No.

SQ 759 is a solution in search of a problem. It would ban something that doesn’t exist – affirmative action quotas in state employment, education and contracting. So why is this even on the ballot?

It is evidently the closest thing to a hot-button, social issue the Republican legislative majority could conjure this year, playing to the preposterous notion that white males are victims of rampant reverse discrimination.

Here’s the reality: Approving SQ 759 would send a terrible message to the rest of the nation – and the world – that Oklahoma doesn’t give a damn about equal opportunity.

Moreover, SQ 759 if approved would ban the one thing that is required of state agencies – a mandate to periodically report to the public how well they’re doing in hiring a workforce that reflects Oklahoma’s increasingly diverse population.

Call it Return of the Good Old Boy System.

Recommendation: No.

SQ 762 would move the governor from the parole process when it comes to non-violent offenders.

Oklahoma is bankrupting itself thanks to a three-strikes mentality – more women incarcerated per capita than any other state, fourth per capita in men.

Taking the governor out of the parole process will speed the transition of non-violent offenders from expensive state incarceration – averaging $16,000-plus per inmate per year – to less expensive community-based supervision and treatment. The savings could be used to invest in underfunded vital state services such as education.

Recommendation: Yes.

SQ 764 is another proposal that looks good at first, but doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. It would create a $300 million bonding authority under the Oklahoma Water Resources Board [OWRB] to help municipalities rebuild, update and expand water and wastewater infrastructure – an estimated $82 billion will be needed over the next 50 years.

The problem is, OWRB would control the money and the projects – which means the State Chamber and the Oklahoma City powers-that-be would be in charge.

Given how OWRB and OKC handled Sardis Lake, that’s more than disconcerting. It evokes fear of a slush fund for the privileged few, helping make the rich richer in Oklahoma City while leaving Oklahoma to wither.

Recommendation: No.

SQ 765 would throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the state Department of Human Services. It would eliminate the DHS commission and transfer its powers to the governor and the Legislature.

That’s hardly a comforting thought. The last thing DHS needs is to be politicized further. What it really needs is to be funded – fully. It never has been, leaving child welfare workers, for example, with crushing caseloads far beyond professional standards.

Recommendation: No.

SQ 766 is a corporatist’s dream come true – a tax avoidance scheme that would make Mitt Romney proud.

The proposal would provide huge tax cuts to major business interests – think utilities, telecommunications companies, airlines and railroads – by exempting intangible property, such as stocks, bonds and investments, from their net worth.

It would cost local governments an estimated $50 million annually – 60% of which goes to schools and roads, among other vital services.

Recommendation: No.

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. Love the digital version. I looked straight to you for explanations of the state questions. I was a subscriber to the paper edition for years, but just don’t read paper publications as much anymore, I am thrilled it is now possible to subscribe digitally. Great job!

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.