A bill pending before the Oklahoma Senate would finally allow city governments to pay for part of their operating costs with property tax revenue instead of sale taxes.
Tulsa leaders have sought that reform for years, and it would be a shame if the effort didn’t cross the finish line now that it has gotten so close.
House Bill 1992, written by Rep. Jadine Nollan, would allow cities like Tulsa to create public safety protection districts that would follow city boundaries.
The bill wouldn’t raise anyone’s taxes, but it would allow cities to ask voters to consider adding up to 5 mils of taxation to certain types of property in their cities to fund things like police and fire personnel and equipment, ambulance services and jails. Under the law, agricultural and industrial property would be among the property exempt from the tax.
Currently, city governments in Oklahoma are largely restricted to sales tax revenue for operating costs, including public safety funding.
That means the salaries of our police officers and firefighters are funded by the most unstable form of tax revenue. Sales taxes move quickly and dramatically in good and bad times, as we all have seen during the COVID-19 crisis.
Property tax revenues are more reliable from year to year, which makes them better suited to long-term, stable costs like police and fire salaries. County government and public schools get much of their local operating revenue from property taxes, but cities can only use it to pay for things such as bond issues and lawsuit judgments.
The Oklahoma House passed HB 1992 on a 76-20 vote in February, but it is among the measures hanging fire in the Senate. Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said he supports the concept of greater local flexibility with property taxes, but doesn’t think the bill has much chance of passing this year.
We hope the calculation changes. In its final days, the Senate should prioritize bills that will help solve problems revealed by the COVID-19 crisis, and stable municipal funding is clearly one of those things. The Senate should approve HB 1992 and send to it Gov. Kevin Stitt for signing.