The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 11, 2012

ERDA meeting hears outline of state questions

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A representative from Oklahoma State Chamber discussed upcoming state questions during Thursday’s Enid Regional Development meeting.

Former Enid resident Cordon DeKock, political projects manager with the Oklahoma State Chamber, went over the questions, briefly discussing them and giving the chamber’s recommendation on two of them.

DeKock is involved in the Yes 766 campaign for State Question 766, which would exempt intangible property from ad valorem taxation.

He cited a 2009 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that states families and businesses should pay taxes on intangible property, despite the fact they never have been assessed before. SQ 766 would overturn the ruling by amending the state Constitution to exempt intangible property, according to a statement from the Oklahoma Prosperity Project, an arm of the state chamber.

While taxing intangible property could potentially bring hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes into local jurisdictions, DeKock said every family and business in the state owns intangible property. Intangible property includes items like pensions, retirement benefits, professional licenses, apartment leases, insurance policies and employee contracts, he said.

“That tax could also include water and wind,” DeKock said.

In answer to a question, he said the Oklahoma Association of County Assessors has not taken a position on the issue.

The state chamber is in favor of SQ 766.

The state chamber also endorses State Question 764, which deals with water infrastructure financing. The question is a constitutional amendment creating a leverage fund for water resources and infrastructure. The question creates a financing system for municipalities and political subdivisions and other public entities.

A recent state water study determined the need to replace and expand drinking water and wastewater infrastructure will cost more than $80 billion over the next 50 years, DeKock said. To address those needs, the Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund would be established by SQ 764, which authorizes the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds for water infrastructure projects.

“It creates a constitutional fund up to $300 million, which can be funded by the Legislature. It can be used as collateral communities can use to update their water infrastructure,” DeKock said.

Discussing State Question 758, DeKock said the proposal would lower the assessment cap on property from 5 percent to 3 percent on homes.

The question establishes an ad valorem tax limit on valuation increases. It would limit the amount county assessors could increase the ad valorem tax on homesteads or agriculture exempted property.

According to the Prosperity Project, county assessors are raising valuations without regard to the actual market value of homes. In many cases, DeKock said, county assessors seem to have utilized the 5 percent maximum as an automatic increase.

The chamber has not taken a position on the issue.

“Oklahomans don’t like taxes,” he said.

However, counties and school districts depend primarily on property tax revenue for operating budgets.

State Question 759 prohibits state and local governments from implementing affirmative action programs in education, employment and contracting.

The ballot measure asks voters if the Oklahoma government should be allowed to grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any group or individual on the basis of race, sex or color, ethnicity or national origin. It affects three specific areas: public employment, public education and public contracting. Any programs necessary to preserve federal funds would be preserved, DeKock said.

State Question 762 modifies the parole process for nonviolent convictions by removing the governor from the parole process. It would give the Pardon and Parole Board the power to review and decide parole requests for non-violent offenders. Violent crimes would be reviewed by the governor.

State Question 765 abolishes the Oklahoma Public Welfare Commission, Department of Human Services Board and authorizes the Legislature to create and direct administration of departments to provide for general welfare of Oklahomans.

During his report, Brent Kisling, ERDA director, said Enid has the highest number of jobs in history. The community also set a record last year for sales tax collections and is exceeding collections by 16 percent so far this year. He credited the Mississippi Limestone oil play, the state’s largest wind farm being constructed and the growth of legacy businesses in Oklahoma.