Eleven state questions on the Oklahoma ballot next week may cause some delays at the polls if voters aren’t educated about the questions before that day.
The package includes some heavyweight topics. The heaviest is State Question 744, which is an attempt by the state’s largest teachers union to tie Oklahoma’s education funding to a regional per-pupil average.
Representative Doug Cox explained the questions at a forum sponsored by the Grove Area Chamber of Commerce Monday.
“Oklahoma has the longest Constitution not only in the nation but in the free world.” Cox told the audience that gathered at Grove’s First Baptist Church for the forum.
“Anything that the legislature votes on that affects the Constitution has to go to the vote of the people,” he said, “that’s one of the reasons there are 11 state questions on the ballot and that’s the reason that Oklahomans vote on more state questions than citizens of any other state in America.”
State Question 744 is an initiative referendum, put on the ballot by citizens petitioning for the vote.
The others are items addressed in the legislature and being brought to the people for the vote.
The following is the summary from Representative Cox as requested by the Grove Sun on each question explaining both the proponents and opposition’s view as well as his outlook.
State Question 744
A yes vote would mandate the state spend more per year on common education to meet a regional average.
This is the most controversial of the state questions.
Opponents state that in order to meet this mandate an additional $820 million to $1 billion a year more will have to go to education.
Opponents point out that to raise this money would require a 32% tax increase statewide, or cutting all other state agencies and services by at least 20% (or some combination of the two).
State agency cuts would mean eliminating 125 Highway Patrol troopers; decreasing health services to low income families, children, seniors; eliminating some prison guards and releasing some convicts early; and less money for roads and bridges.
All of the money goes to common education (pre-K through grade 12). None of the money goes to colleges or universities; in fact they would have to raise tuition 20% to compensate for their funding cuts if the measure passes.
Opponents state there are no guarantees about how the money will be used; no assurance that the money will go to teacher salaries or to the classroom.
Proponents point out that we rank number 49 in per-pupil spending. Oklahoma spends $7,785 per pupil each year, compared to an average of $8,982 in surrounding states. The U.S. average is $10,259.
Oklahoma teacher salaries rank 41st (up from 49 a few years ago). Our teachers make an average of $43,551, compared to $45,448 in surrounding states (a difference of $1,897 a year).
Those in favor point out that even accounting for Oklahoma’s relative low cost of living that our teacher salaries and education funding lag behind other states.
Proponents state the money can be obtained from eliminating the tax breaks that have been used to attract industry to Oklahoma.
Oklahoma presently spends 52% of the entire state budget on education, an amount very similar to other states.
State Question 754
A yes vote would ensure that the appropriations and budgeting process set up by the Oklahoma Constitution stays the way it currently is. It would stop any unions or government agencies from demanding that they be funded in a different or higher way. It would prevent requiring Oklahoma fund state functions based on how other states fund them.
This question is the legislature’s attempt to undo and prevent SQ744, and prevent similar measures in the future. The legislature feels that every state has its own particular issues and should determine their own destiny rather than being driven by what surrounding states do.
This measure states that once adopted it can not be amended or repealed. I do find that a little worrisome. I have lived long enough to learn that seldom should you say “always” or “never”.
The question that begs to be answered is what happens if both SQ744 and SQ755 pass. When that question was posed to the Attorney General he stated something to the effect that the one that passed by the largest majority would rule. I am sure that would be challenged in court.
State Question 746
A yes vote makes voters show proof of identity—voter ID.
The intent of the legislature in placing this on the ballot is to decrease any chance of voter fraud. In our communities the chance of fraud is low, in large part because our poll workers are usually long time residents who know many of those who vote. This is not the case in metropolitan areas.
We as a legislature did not feel that producing a government issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a passport, was an onerous requirement. You often have to show a photo ID to use your credit card, cash a check, or even to pick your own grandchild up at school!
If someone does not have a government issued photo ID they can still vote by simply producing their voter registration card.
Twenty-six other states require voter identification. Eight other states require a photo ID.
State Question 747
A yes vote would make all state-wide elected offices have a term limit of eight yrs. The exception is the Corporation Commission which would be 12 years (because there are three commissioners that serve 4 year staggered terms).
This would affect the offices of Gov., Lieutenant Gov, Labor Commissioner, State School Superintendent, Insurance Commissioner, and State Auditor.
The State Legislature (Senators and Representatives) are already subject to 12 year term limits.
The driving force is that some people feel this would encourage the offices to be held by “citizen public servants” rather than career politicians.
The down side is that if you have someone who is doing a really good job, he can only serve 8 years.
It really just boils down to whether or not you are a fan of term limits.
State Question 748
Every 10 years redistricting (to ensure each legislator represents the appropriate number of citizens) is done by the legislature. If the legislature cannot get the task done, the job then falls to a Commission. A yes vote changes the number of people on the commission from three to seven, and makes it bi-partisan with the Lt. Governor as the non-voting chairman.
The idea behind the measure is to make the redistricting procedure less prone to partisan politics.
In reality this commission has never been used as the legislature has always got the job done. In today’s world it is even easier with the aid of computers.
State Question 750
A yes vote would require fewer signatures on petitions circulated by citizens to get an item on the ballot. Currently you have to obtain the number of signatures equal to a percentage of the voters who voted in the last presidential election.
The measure would change it to the last gubernatorial election. Typically, fewer people vote in our gubernatorial election than the presidential election.
The up side is that it would make it easier for citizens to affect change in government and the laws.
The down side is that it would result in even more state questions on the ballot (Oklahoma already has more than any other state).
State Question 751
A yes vote makes English the official language of Oklahoma. This means that all state publications and business are only required to be done in English or a Native American language.
This will give the state some protection in case someone sues the state because we do not provide material/tests in other languages.
It does not prohibit the state from providing material in the more common foreign languages if there is sufficient demand.
State Question 752
A yes vote modifies the Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends candidates for the Governor to appoint to vacant judgeships.
Currently it is made up of 12 people. Six are lawyers appointed by the Oklahoma Bar Association. Six are non-lawyers appointed by the Governor.
This measure adds two non-lawyer members appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate.
The measure also clarifies that the non-lawyer members cannot be married to a lawyer, and their children cannot be a lawyer.
The purpose of this question is to give the legislature some input into the process of judicial appointments.
State Question 755
A yes vote forbids Oklahoma courts from using Sharia (Islamic) or international law to decide cases in our state courts.
This has never been a problem in Oklahoma. However there have been a couple of cases in other states where a judge, unable to find a precedent in U.S. law, cited a case in a foreign country as the precedent on which he based his decision. There has also been a case in America where a judge cited a person’s religious “law” as the determining factor rather than the official statutes.
This question takes a proactive stance to prevent such events from taking place in Oklahoma. It basically states that the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions, and precedents in American courts should be the basis of our judicial opinions.
State Question 756
A yes vote allows Oklahoma residents to opt-out of Federal health care.
The measure prohibits making a person, or employer, participate in a health care system against their will.
It prohibits making a provider (doctor or hospital) provide treatment in a health care system against their wishes.
It allows persons and employers to pay for treatment directly, and allows doctors and hospitals to accept payments direct from patients.
It allows companies to sell, and individuals the right to purchase, insurance in a private healthcare system.
Although so-called “Obama-care” is very unpopular in Oklahoma, in reality this measure cannot effect or negate federal laws or rules. The U.S. Constitution has a “supremacy clause” that says federal law rules over state law.
This measure if passed is sure to be challenged in the court system, as similar measures passed in other states already are being challenged.
State Question 757
A yes vote increases “rainy day fund” savings from a maximum of 10% to 15%.
In prosperous financial times the legislature tries to save some money back for hard times. This is very similar to a family’s savings account. The state savings account is known as the Rainy Day Fund.
This measure allows the saving of more money when times are good, to be used in times when the economy is bad.