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OCPA Impact challenges constitutionality of Boren tax increase

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Last week, we 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.

The ballot petition is a textbook example of logrolling. Oklahoma teachers deserve a pay raise, but voters need to know there’s a lot more in Pres. Boren’s petition than just a tax increase and a teacher pay raise.

We also 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. This can be done without a misleading, unconstitutional money grab.

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.

Subject #2–Unrelated funding: To secure the pay raise for teachers, voters will have to agree to a tax increase from which over 40 percent of the funds will go toward items other than teacher salaries. This separate money, unrelated to teacher salaries–much of it unrelated even to common education–is the petition’s second subject.

Subject #3–Sales tax: The third subject 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 most other areas of state government.

The ballot petition clearly violates the one-general-subject rule of Article XXIV, Section 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution.

By comparison, in 2004, Oklahoma voters approved creation of the Oklahoma Lottery, from which some revenues were to be used to fund education.

However, the Lottery was presented to voters in two separate ballot questions. The first, State Question 705, created the Oklahoma Lottery Commission for the purpose of operating the lottery. The second, State Question 706, created the Oklahoma Education Lottery Trust Fund, to be the conduit for a portion of proceeds to fund education.

As explained in our filing, the state Supreme Court has previously opposed logrolling on the grounds that “voters should not have to adopt measures of which they really disapprove in order to embrace positions that they favor.”

Initiative Petition 403 is not legally sufficient to be submitted for a vote of the people. 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. Citizens then vote for the thing they like, such as a teacher pay raise, but end up saddled with the thing they didn’t favor, such as paying the highest sales taxes in the nation.

A better way to increase teacher salaries is to eliminate wasteful or nonessential state spending, which is achievable without hurting other core services.

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 an average pay raise of $5,000 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 of wasteful and nonessential spending in Oklahoma’s state government, totaling $617.3 million, that could be eliminated to fund teacher pay raises and hire more teachers, visit www.StopHigherTaxesOK.com.

[Photo credit: Oklahoma Watch]