Voters will have six proposals on ballot
BY WAYNE GREENE World Seniorwriter
Sunday, October 28, 2012
10/28/12 at 3:14 AM
Read all the election coverage.
Oklahoma voters will decide six state questions on the November ballot. Here is a brief explanation of each question and the arguments on each side:
State Question 758
Subject: Limiting property tax assessment increases
Details: The constitutional amendment would limit increases in assessments of owner-occupied homes and agricultural land to 3 percent. Currently, all property tax assessment increases are limited to 5 percent. The proposed limitation would apply only to homesteads and agricultural land. The change would restrain revenue growth to property tax-funded local governments, including schools. In fiscal year 2014, the impact would be $6.56 million, according to an Oklahoma Tax Commission estimate. The proposal would not affect the property tax freeze for people who are at least 65 years old and who meet household income guidelines. In Tulsa County, the freeze applies to households with incomes of no more than $59,600.
Proponents say: The measure would limit the increase in property taxes for many Oklahomans.
Opponents say: The measure could actually result in higher property tax bills for many people because millage rates might have to be adjusted to cover fixed costs such as bond issues. An assessment cap helps property owners whose market values are rising rapidly, but it can shift a portion of the tax burden to taxpayers whose property values aren't rising. Schools would be shorted funding they need if the measure passes.
State Question 759
Subject: Affirmative Action
Details: The proposal would add a section to the Constitution limiting the use of affirmative action programs. It would not permit state, county or municipal affirmative action in state employment, education and contracting programs. The measure provides for three exceptions: When gender is a "bona fide qualification," when affirmative action programs are needed to comply with court orders and when affirmative action programs are mandated to continue eligibility for federal funding.
Proponents say: Employment, education and contracting decisions should be made on the basis of merit, not race or gender.
Opponents say: The measure would put the state in a bad light. Employment quotas are already forbidden in the state and the proposal was designed to excite voters, not accomplish anything.
State Question 762
Subject: Paroles of some nonviolent prisoners
Details: The constitutional amendment would remove the governor from the parole process for some nonviolent prisoners. For those prisoners, the state parole board would be authorized to grant parole without gubernatorial action. The governor would retain authority to approve parole board recommendations on paroles of criminals convicted of violent offenses. Oklahoma is the only state where the governor is involved in all paroles.
Proponents say: The measure would save the state about $3.3 million a year by eliminating the delay between parole board consideration and gubernatorial approval of nonviolent paroles.
Opponents say: The Oklahoma District Attorneys Association opposes the proposal because it will mean felons "will hit the streets within days of the board's decision. Drug dealers, drunken drivers, child pornographers, abusers of vulnerable adults in nursing facilities and white-collar criminals will all be eligible for release without review of the governor." Gov. Mary Fallin, after initially accepting the idea, now opposes it.
State Question 764
Subject: Funding for water and sewer improvements
Details: The proposal would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue up to $300 million in general obligation bonds to cover the reserve fund for a water and sewage treatment lending program.
If the bonds are issued, the Legislature will be responsible paying off the debt from the state budget, but the bonds will be sold only if local governments borrowing money from the water resources board fail to meet loan payments. A loan default hasn't resulted in additional legislative appropriations in the 30 years of the program.
Proponents say: The state has about $82 billion in needed water and sewage infrastructure improvements in the next 50 years and the higher bonding capacity would allow the lending program to grow to help meet that need.
Opponents say: The measure is an inappropriate use of state credit to meet local needs and puts the state budget at risk of having to cover for potential local defaults.
State Question 765
Subject: Oklahoma Human Services Commission
Details: The proposal would repeal three sections of the state Constitution and add another, essentially eliminating the Oklahoma Human Services Commission, which oversees the Department of Human Services.
The measure is part of a package of legislative reforms to the state's largest bureaucracy after a series of DHS scandals.
If the constitutional amendment passes, a law enacted this year would go into effect, giving the governor the authority to hire or fire the state DHS director.
Proponents say: The commission has been ineffective in overseeing DHS and has allowed the state to get into expensive litigation over conditions at DHS facilities. The measure would make DHS more accountable to citizens through their elected governor.
Opponents say: The question is confusing and will create uncertainty with voters. The measure asks voters to abolish the commission without any clear sense of its replacement. The proposal leaves some doubt about the status of DHS if the question passes.
State Question 766
Subject: Intangible property
Details: The constitutional amendment would exempt intangible property - things like client lists, reputation and intellectual property - from property taxes. Currently, intangible property taxes are paid only by entities that are assessed by the state: public utilities and transportation entities. The state distributes that revenue to local governments.
In 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled that all businesses, including those assessed at the county level, should have to pay the tax. The issue was put off temporarily by a business activity tax in lieu of the intangible property tax for most businesses. State tax officials says the fiscal impact of the move would be a loss of about $50 million in revenue to local governments, 60 percent of which goes to schools.
Proponents say: The intangible property tax is confusing and restricts economic growth. While the property tax impact would be negligible when spread over the entire state, the potential for a property tax on intangible property tax could be devastating to the economy.
Opponents say: The measure would rob schools, public safety and other vital services of funding and could result in higher homeowner property taxes.
STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World file
Sewer plant near Interstate 44 and the Arkansas River. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file
Proponents of State Question 762 say the measure would save the state about $3.3 million a year by changing how paroles of nonviolent offenders are handled. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World file