Bad time to limit taxes, speaker says
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Monday, January 18, 2010
1/18/10 at 4:11 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY — House Speaker Chris Benge said now is not the time to further limit increases in property valuations.
Last week, the Senate Republican Caucus unveiled an agenda that included capping annual increases in property valuations at 3 percent, down from the current 5 percent.
Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, has written two measures, one capping increases at 3 percent and another at 1 percent. His bills would send the issue to a vote of the people.
"I think it is bad timing," said Benge, R-Tulsa. "We are looking at a very tough budget year. To date, it is about 25 percent or 26 percent below the estimate. We are looking at a very difficult time to fill a budget hole in which we are going to have to cut budgets. We are going to have to use reserves. I just don't think that the timing is good to reduce revenue."
State agencies have been forced to cut budgets due to declining state revenues.
Reynolds vowed to fight for his measure and is seeking public support.
"It boils down to one man preventing voting on it and that is Speaker Chris Benge, who blocked it last year," Reynolds said.
Reynolds believes now is the time to send the measure to a vote of the people.
"We are going to do everything we can to raise awareness so special interest groups that have the ear of Speaker Benge are not controlling this process," he said.
If voters "would raise up their voice, I believe the man will kowtow," Reynolds said. "They have got to raise their voice."
Michael McClaren, Claremore Public Schools superintendent, said a third of his budget comes from property taxes. A reduction in that revenue would have a huge impact, McClaren said.
Mark Bledsoe, United Suburban Schools Association executive director, said he was disappointed that Senate Republicans are supporting the measure, given the budget problems.
"To lower the property tax, you take revenue away from public schools at a time they are in economic crisis," Bledsoe said. "They will talk about these things as economic development tools in a year when schools are facing significant cuts. We are turning our attention away from our greatest economic development tool, education."
Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan said Reynolds is "grandstanding" on an issue popular with taxpayers. Sullivan, a former lawmaker, said he doubts the measure will get out of the Legislature and on the ballot. But if it did make it to a ballot, it likely would pass, Sullivan said.
"The schools are having the tightest budget year they have ever had," Sullivan said.
Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel said he and other assessors are studying Reynolds' proposed measures.
Barbara Hoberock (405) 528-2465
House Speaker Chris Benge: "We are looking at a very tough budget year," the Tulsa Republican says.