The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

July 21, 2010

Ag leaders, state coalition are against S.Q. 744

ENID — At a press conference Wednesday, local agriculture leaders teamed with policy advocacy group One Oklahoma Coalition to urge Enid residents to vote against State Question 744, a proposed constitutional amendment that would affect funding for public education.

Representatives from the coalition, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, American Farmers and Ranchers and another local agriculture producer, told the audience at Johnston Grain Terminal Elevator voting yes on SQ 744 would result in less funding for existing state agencies and potentially higher taxes for farmers and ranchers.

The question will be on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

“Rural Oklahoma will pay for the lion’s share of State Question 744,” said Mike Spradling, president of Oklahoma Farm Bureau.

Currently, education spending is determined by the Oklahoma Legislature, but if SQ 744 passes, spending instead will be calculated on a per-student average of six surrounding states in the region: Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri.

The regional average per student currently is $9,633, while Oklahoma spends $8,006 — last in the region. According to Walton Robinson, communications director for the campaign “Yes on 744,” passage of the proposal ensures Oklahoma’s youths can be competitive with students from other states, which have better-funded schools.

“This really comes down to one thing,” Robinson said. “It’s the fact that today kids in Oklahoma don’t have the same education opportunities as kids in other states. ... Voting yes on 744 ensures we will provide better opportunities for them in the future.”

Jeff Wilson, campaign manager for the coalition, which was formed earlier this year to oppose SQ 744, said funding the requirement will be impossible without slashing funding from other state agencies or raising taxes.

A report published Tuesday by Oklahoma Policy Institute, a statewide public policy organization, stated the total cost over a three-year phase-in period for the new legislation would be about $1.7 billion. Robinson said the three-year phase-in period allows the economy to rebound and the state to cut other funds in order to meet the regional per-pupil average.

However, Wilson said even with a rebound in the economy, the new proposal will force the state Legislature to make deep cuts to health care, law enforcement, elderly assistance, poverty assistance and other essential state funding. Citing testimony from a state House Budget Committee hearing last fall, he predicted an across-the-board 20 percent budget cut to all areas of state government.

“We want to strengthen all parts of our state, not just one part of the state at the expense of everyone else,” Wilson said.

Spradling said the bill specifically impacts agriculture producers, because he predicts an increase in property tax and elimination of the sales tax exemption for farmers.

“These are devastating consequences if an 8 percent sales tax goes on to rural farmers,” said Dr. Barry Pollard, an ag producer and general surgeon in Enid. “If you go into a store to buy a $200,000 tractor, that’s an extra $16,000 tax that’s added.”

Robinson argued the question stipulates approval of SQ 744 does not specifically result in an increase of taxes. Rather, he hopes the state can cut “fat and waste” from the state budget.

He said added investment in education will pay for itself by attracting industry to the state and reducing high school dropout rates.

“If we invest in kids and invest in our schools, the state stands to benefit,” he said.

Information for and against the question can be found at www.yeson744.com or www.nosq744.com.

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