OKLAHOMA CITY — (AP) — Oklahoma voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a plan that would have required the state to spend annually on education no less than the regional average of six neighboring states.
Critics, including Gov. Brad Henry, said State Question 744 would have forced devastating cuts to other state agencies, since it's estimated to cost between $900 million and $1.7 billion over the next several years.
Supporters of the measure argued that Oklahoma could afford the education spending if "legislative perks" were reduced and the number of state tax credits drastically cut.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have required Oklahoma within three years to meet the regional average of per-student spending of its six surrounding states.
Oklahoma ranked 49th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in such expenditures in 2008, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The ballot measure had no funding mechanism in place and did not call for a tax increase.
Among those who favored 744 was Sapulpa resident Doug Jackson, 50, who has kids in school and wanted to stop local teachers leaving Oklahoma for other states.
But Bixby resident Mark Schulz, 48, voted against 744 because he said there was no way to fund it, and called it an "unfortunate time" to propose such a measure in a tough budget crunch.
"It's a good intention, but short on fundamentals," he said.
The measure was among 11 state questions that clogged the ballot Tuesday.
Among a handful of controversial questions on the ballot, voters:
— approved English as the state's official language with the exceptions for Native American languages.
— banned judges from considering international law or Islamic law when deciding cases
— required voters to present ID at the polls
— allowed residents to "opt-out" of the new federal health care reform law.
Critics said some of the 11 measures were divisive, pandering and designed to beef up voter turnout among some conservative groups.
"(Some of the questions) appeal to peoples' biases about immigration, Islam and what's going on with the reach of government in Washington," said Richard Johnson, chairman of the political science department at Oklahoma City University.
Conservatives denied any conspiracy, and said the state questions were designed to address the reach of the federal government into everyday lives.
The author of the official English bill, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, said his measure had the highest polling among the state questions. With its passage, Oklahoma becomes the 31st state to adopt similar laws, Terrill said.
"Oklahoma is a bit behind the curve," Terrill said.
In other state questions, voters approved:
— expanding term limits to additional statewide offices.
— changing the makeup of the three-member legislative Apportionment Commission by removing the attorney general, superintendent and treasurer, and making it a seven-member commission with appointees from the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tempore.
— a measure that would modify the signature requirement for initiative and referendum petitions by basing percentage requirements on gubernatorial elections instead of presidential elections, which would likely lower the number of signatures required.
— adding two at-large members to the Judicial Nominating Commission appointed by the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore. Neither appointee can be a lawyer or have a lawyer in their immediate family.
— increasing the amount of surplus revenue that goes into the state's constitutional reserve fund from 10 percent to 15 percent of certified general revenue.
Voters rejected prohibiting constitutional spending requirements based on predetermined formulas or how much other states or entities spend on a function.