I appreciate the de-politicized nature of the ongoing campaign to get storm shelters in schools. It should be a nonpartisan issue. Everyone should want to save children’s lives.
But the right-wing is slowly but surely starting to respond negatively to the initiative petition drive that would give voters a chance to approve a $500 million bond issue that would help get shelters in schools.
Last May, a major tornado destroyed two schools in Moore, killing seven children. The schools didn’t have storm shelters. Since the tragedy, people have stepped forward with ideas to get students more protection from our violent weather.
State Rep. Joe Dorman, a Democrat from Rush Springs, helped organize a petition drive to put the bond issue to a vote of the people. The money for the bond issue would come from the state’s franchise tax. The organization created to garner the signatures, Oklahoma Alliance for Shelters in Schools (OASIS), explains it this way:
The Take Shelter Oklahoma petition would allow voters to decide whether or not a bond should be issued to set up a state-wide fund for school storm shelters and improved school security. The debt from the bond would be paid by the franchise tax, which already exists. No taxes would be raised. Local districts would decide whether or not to use the funds; nothing mandated by the state so local control would not be lost. If instead local districts have to issue bonds for storm shelters, those would have to be paid for by increasing property taxes. There is a move in the legislature to eliminate the franchise tax rather than use its revenue for the general fund. Proponents of the petition drive argue that it would be best to keep the franchise tax in place and use the funds to pay the debt service on the storm shelter bond.
Since the petition drive began, Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, has come out against the proposal, and the Tulsa World has now editorialized against it as well.
According to news reports, Fallin said, “I am not sure that is the best way of doing it.” A Fallin spokesperson said, if approved, the ballot question would mean fewer dollars for other areas in education. The franchise tax on businesses is actually suspended right now, but it will start again in 2014. Some Republicans want to end the tax outright.
The Tulsa World then weighed in on the issue with an editorial supporting Fallin’s decision with this argument: “Aren’t there more pressing and clearly more urgent education funding needs in the state than storm shelters? We believe there are.”
The point is that the right-wing here is signaling it plans to oppose the measure if it gets to a vote of the people. The question is whether conservatives here can rally the same widespread support they had in opposing State Question 744 in 2010. That question, if approved, would have provided average funding for schools based on a regional average. It was defeated by a wide margin.
Surely, it has to be difficult to be against anything that provides for children’s safety in public schools. The bond issue will be a one-time expense paid for by an existing tax that has been suspended temporarily and not part of the current budget process. Thus, no new cuts in education will go to pay for the shelters.
I’m a strong advocate of getting storm shelters in every school, building, and house in the state, one way or another. I also think we need to approach storm safety here in a multitude of ways, including enhancing our early warning systems and reactions.
A bond issue to help protect kids is a step in the right direction.