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SQ 744 equals bad news for Oklahoma

Most bankers attuned even moderately to “political” matters know by this time that the Association is strongly opposed to State Question 744.

A number of bankers have asked “why” so we thought this might be a good time to borrow from the anti-SQ 744 campaign and spell out the reasons for the OBA's opposition.

SQ 744 is a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would require Oklahoma state government to spend an amount equal to the average per-pupil expenditure made in the six states that surround Oklahoma. If approved, the provisions of SQ 744 can never be changed without another vote of the people.

Importantly, there is no requirement that these funds go for the benefit of our state's children. In fact, there's no directive at all as to how the money is to be spent, or for whose benefit.

The Oklahoma Education Association – the state's teachers' union – and its national counterpart, the NEA, will spend $4 million to convince Oklahomans to vote in favor of SQ 744. Almost $1.5 million of network television ad time has already been purchased by OEA for ads supporting the question. Those ads began in mid-September and run through the election.

The initiative petition successfully obtained enough signatures from voters to place this constitutional amendment on the November ballot. It was not an issue that was ever considered or debated by the Oklahoma Legislature. Importantly, there is no funding source included within the provisions of this amendment.

As a practical matter, the money to fund the mandates of this requirement have to come from somewhere. If voters approve SQ 744, the Oklahoma legislature and governor will have to make one of two choices: either they will be forced to severely underfund critical state government services by more than $1 billion a year, OR they will be required to approve substantial tax increases.

Here are some examples of the projected fiscal impact:

  • College tuition rates are very likely to skyrocket.
  • More than $340 million in federal matching dollars to care for seniors, children and other ailing Oklahomans will be lost.
  • As many as nine prisons will be closed (causing the early release of 8,400 criminals).
  • More than $190 million will be cut from the state's highway budget-derailing the repair of thousands of crumbling bridges and deteriorating highways across the state.
  • Senior meal programs that feed thousands of Oklahoma's poorest and oldest residents will be scrapped.

These are just a few of the areas where cuts will likely be required if this measure is approved and there is no tax increase. No area of the state's budget and operation will be spared.

  • The passage of SQ 744 would also cripple economic development in the state. The state's economic incentive programs to attract new companies and retain and expand existing companies would end, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs. Experts agree that passing SQ 744 would lead to economic chaos in the state.
  • If passed, SQ 744 would not guarantee the state or its residents will receive anything. There is no guarantee that the $1 billion or more a year will raise teacher pay a single penny. There are no guarantees that any of the new money would be used to pay for textbooks for our children, provide more classroom computers, lab equipment, band instruments, art supplies, new sports equipment or anything else.
  • There is no guarantee that academic standards would increase if SQ 744 becomes law and also no guarantee that the new money won't go directly into the pockets of already high-paid superintendents and administrators. SQ 744 doesn't detail how one cent of this $1 billion a year will be spent or provide any oversight to ensure it's spent properly.

SQ 744 is not the answer to reforming our state's common education system. A program with no guarantees that would cripple the rest of state government, cost thousands of jobs and lead to economic chaos will set the state back for many years.

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