Oklahoma voters will have six state questions to decide on the Nov. 6, General Election ballot.
The Altus Chamber of Commerce board of directors at their board meetings in September and October passed two resolutions supporting passage of two state questions that impact business and industry. The Altus Chamber supports passage of State Questions 764 which concerns water infrastructure financing. This constitutional amendment creates a reserve fund to leverage available funding for water resource and sewage treatment financial assistance programs for municipalities, political sub-divisions and other public entities in Oklahoma. Also the Altus Chamber supports passage of State Question 766 which exempts all intangible personal property from ad valorem taxation. The Altus Chamber board of directors suggested that staff provide information on all the state questions so citizens can be informed about each. The following is a synopsis of each state question to be on the ballot November 6, 2012. This can be found on the Oklahoma Prosperity web site: “http://www.okprosperity.com” under resources/state questions. All citizens are encouraged to be informed as to the pros and cons as listed below. Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 6. For further information contact the Altus Chamber of Commerce at 1-580-482-0210.
State Question 758 Subject: Ad valorem tax limit on valuation increases
Summary: If passed, this ballot measure would limit the amount that county assessors could only increase the ad valorem tax on homestead or agriculture exempted property by 3% (or the rate of inflation, whichever is less) rather than the current 5%.
Pros: Some County assessors are raising valuations without regard to the actual market value of the home. In many cases, the county assessors seem to have utilized the 5% max as an automatic increase. Lowering the maximum annual increase will better control property taxes.
Cons: Counties and school districts depend primarily on property tax revenue for their operating budgets. In these tough times, setting an arbitrary limit on annual assessment valuations is harmful. Property values should be assessed on a free market basis and not be arbitrarily restricted.
State Question 759 Subject: Prohibits state and local government affirmative action programs in education, employment and contracting
Summary: An organization based in Sacramento called the American Civil Rights Institute has been encouraging the passage of this language in several other states. The ballot measure asks voters if the Oklahoma government should be allowed to continue to grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any group or individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in 3 specific areas: public employment, public education, or public contracting. Similar measures have passed in California, Washington, Michigan, Nebraska and Arizona. Any programs that are necessary to receive federal funds would be preserved.
Pros: Proponents of this measure believe that affirmative action was never meant to be a permanent policy and that it has become distorted. They believe that affirmative action has become the equivalent to a quota system and peoples should only be hired based on their qualifications. The business aspect of this measure comes into play when dealing with “bid preferences”, such as are done in the city of Tulsa. This drives up the costs of government and who can apply and ultimately win public projects.
Cons: This could have an adverse effect on the percentage of minorities that would receive college education. According to one study, eliminating affirmative action would drop admissions of African-American and Hispanic candidates by nearly two-thirds. With the Hispanic population being the fastest growing segment of the population, it behooves the entire state to ensure a well educated population.
State Question 762 Subject: Modifies the parole process for nonviolent convictions by removing the Governor
Summary: This ballot measure would amend the state Constitution to give the Pardon and Parole Board the power to review and decide parole requests for non-violent offenders. Violent crimes would still be reviewed by the Governor. This proposal was one of the recommendations from a 2007 performance audit of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections conducted by MGT of American, Inc.
Pros: Oklahoma is the only state in which the governor is involved in the parole process for non-violent offenders. Removing the governor from the parole process could save the state more than $40 million in the next 10 years.
Cons: Opponents of this measure say it is important to the voters that the person ultimately making this decision be someone who answers directly to the voters.
State Question 764 Subject: Water infrastructure financing
Summary: The constitutional amendment creates a reserve fund to leverage available funding for water resource and sewage treatment financial assistance programs for municipalities, political subdivisons and other public entities in Oklahoma. The recent update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan estimates that over the next fifty years the need for maintaining, replacing and expanding drinking water and wastewater infrastructure will total over 80 billion dollars. To begin to address these needs, the amendment creates the Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund and authorizes the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds for water infrastructure projects after other funding sources are exhausted, subject to legislative appropriation and authority.
Pros: The Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s current drinking water and wastewater loan program has saved Oklahoma communities and the state over $900 million since 1985, while managing over $2.5 billion in project financing. Passage of SQ 764 helps protect one of our state’s most precious natural resources - water. With Oklahoma’s aging infrastructure and growing demands, the creation of the Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund will ensure the ability of the state to assist communities in reducing waste of this precious resource and providing safe and reliable water infrastructure. The reserve fund could only be used after other revenue sources are utilized for repayment of water infrastructure loans.
Cons: Some argue that the legislature should directly fund these needs and new bonds should not be issued for necessary infrastructure that is part of core government services. Though some are concerned that managing appropriations in this manner will limit appropriation to other core government needs. Some also argue that rural water districts do not receive adequate support from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and their fair share of the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure loan programs. However, a HYPERLINK “http://www.owrb.ok.gov/financing/pdf_fin/LoansAandF.pdf” \t “_blank” quick review of the systems funded over the years make it clear there is not an unfair distribution of funds.
State Question 765 Subject: Abolishes the Oklahoma Public Welfare Commission and authorizes the Legislature to create and direct administration of a department to provide for general welfare of Oklahomans
Summary: The constitutional amendment abolishes the Department of Public Welfare, the Oklahoma Public Welfare Commission, and the Director of Public Welfare, currently known as the Department of Human Services, the Commission for Human Services, and the Director of Human Services, respectively. The Commission has been a constitutionally-mandated, nine-member group of appointed volunteers appointed by the Governor that has overseen the operations of DHS since 1936. The proposal authorizes the Legislature, and as allowed by law, the people via initiative petition, to enact legislation for the creation of a department(s) for the care and relief of the indigent, elderly, children, physical or otherwise disabled persons who are unable to provide or care for themselves. This proposal is a recommendation of the Oklahoma House of Representatives DHS Working Group that has engaged in outreach and study of DHS since October 2011. Companion legislation (HB 3137) requires the governor to appoint an agency director, with consent of the Senate, if the state question passes.
Pros: Advocates say the change will give the State Legislature greater oversight of DHS and opportunity for much needed, overdue reforms. Many legislators advocated for the change because the agency has been isolated from any real accountability.
Cons: Opponents say this is a huge change to an important agency. The new structure goes against Oklahoma’s populist tradition by giving the governor more power and would politicize the agency director’s job.
State Question 766 Subject: Exempts all intangible personal property from ad valorem taxation
Summary: In 2009, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma families and businesses should pay new taxes on intangible property, despite the fact that these taxes have never been assessed in state history. This measure overturns the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling by amending the Oklahoma Constitution to exempt all intangible personal property from ad valorem tax.
Pros: Virtually every Oklahoma family or business owns intangible property, often without even realizing it. Exempting intangible property will permanently protect families and small businesses from new taxes on items like pensions, retirement benefits, professional licenses (such as teaching certificates and nursing licenses), apartment leases, insurance policies and employment contracts. Since most states do not tax this type of property, passing State Question 766 will keep Oklahoma jobs and businesses on an even playing field with competitors in other states.
Cons: Many opponents want to see hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes that will go to local jurisdictions. The Oklahoma Tax Commission has estimated that exempting intangible property may have an impact of approximately $50 million, but this number has been heavily disputed because intangible property cannot be seen or touched and is very difficult to quantify.