By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer
Attendees at Sunday’s community forum at Antioch Baptist Church hoped to leave with a better understanding of what each state question on Tuesday’s ballot means.
“We need to get more information, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Shirley Nune of Muskogee.
“Sometimes they word things on the ballots in ways that make them hard to understand,” Alice Jones said. “They ought to write these in plain English.”
The Rev. Marlon Coleman not only tried to give the attendees the plain English version of what the state questions mean, he also shared what he and others learned by polling local education board members, state legislators and committee members about each question.
“We canvassed people across the state and met with the Black Caucus last week, and that’s how we formed our opinions,” Coleman said. “Now I’m not going to tell you to go out and vote the way we say to when you leave here, but I want you to consider three things when you decide how to vote on each state question.”
Those three things, Coleman said, are:
• Does the state question benefit people or big corporations?
• Is it easy to understand?
• What are the long-term and short-term effects if the question passes?
Two state questions would change how much is paid in ad valorem taxes.Ad valorem taxes are the taxes paid on personal property each year. A large percentage goes to local school districts.
State Question No. 758 would put a cap on how much the assessed value of a home can increase from year to year. It would cap annual increases to 3 percent and freeze increases for senior citizens.
State Question No. 766 would end taxation on intangible personal property, such as patents, formulas, trade secrets, licenses, franchise, contracts, land leases, mineral interests, trademarks, brand names and more.
Supporters of SQ 758 and SQ 766 maintain the measures are necessary to keep taxes down for property owners while the nation’s economy is struggling.
“If passed, both measures will help increase economic growth and provide Oklahomans with some much needed relief amid the current economic uncertainty,” wrote Kyle Baccei for Americans for Tax Reform. “Prohibiting the taxation of intangible property and capping property tax increases to 3 percent is necessary to assist Oklahoma in a full economic recovery.”
However, Coleman said, opponents to SQ 758 argue that it helps only those living in areas where property values are skyrocketing — not the case in Muskogee — and will force cities to raise other taxes to meet the needs ad valorem taxes are used for.
Opponents of 766 say the intangible taxes that will no longer be assessed for property taxes benefit only major corporations, utilities, airlines, railroads and telecommunications companies, he said.
“We were told when we asked questions about this measure, that it combined with State Question 758 would create a loss of about $50 million in property tax revenue, 60 percent of which goes to schools,” Coleman said.
State Question 759 would modify affirmative action programs in the state.
It would no longer permit affirmative action programs in state agencies, counties, cities towns and school districts, unless affirmative action programs are required in order to maintain federal funding.
Supporters of SQ 759 maintain that affirmative action programs aren’t needed any longer in Oklahoma.
However, opponents say there are no hiring quotas for minorities in Oklahoma and they have, in fact, been illegal in public sector hiring practices in Oklahoma since the 1980s, Coleman said.
“We don’t understand why this issue is on the ballot at all,” he said.
State Question 762 would remove the power and authority of the governor from the parole process, but only for persons convicted of nonviolent offenses. It grants more power and authority to the Pardon and Parole Board to grant parole to offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes.
State Question 764 would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds to be used as a reserve fund for certain water resource and sewage treatment funding programs.
No more than $300 million in bonds could be issued, and the Legislature would provide the money to pay for the bonds.
Currently, local water utilities seek loans from the OWRB with low interest to build water plants and sewage treatment plants.
State Question 765 would abolish the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services and the position of director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
The measure would then add a provision to the state Constitution to allow the Legislature to create a department or departments to replace DHS.
Coleman told the attendees Sunday to consider whether they are willing to allow the government to abolish the entire child welfare system when they “have no back up plan” ready to go.
“What will happen next? Are we just supposed to trust the government will simply figure something out later?” he said. “Keep that in mind.”
Jerry Jarrard left the forum satisfied that he’d learned what he needs to know to make an informed decision on each question.
“It has been valuable for me, yes,” he said. “I feel like I really learned something here.”
Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see each state question as it is listed on the ballot, PC and Mac users click on this link:
Mobile users click here: http://m.muskogeephoenix.com/muskogephoenix/db_292679/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=71SXvdgn