The Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down another obvious decision yesterday when it decided in a 6 to 3 vote that Oklahomans can actually VOTE to determine whether they want to raise the state sales tax by one penny to prevent the complete and utter devastation of our public schools.
This was a no-brainer for the state supremes. A coalition supported by University of Oklahoma President David Boren wants to circulate an initiative petition to get enough signatures to place the one-penny sales tax increase dedicated exclusively to education on the 2016 general election ballot so people can vote. A spinoff organization sponsored by the right-wing extremists at the “think” tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) doesn’t want the vote to happen so it went to the court to stop it.
OCPA’s petty and illogical argument was that the ballot measure violated the state’s constitution prohibiting having more than one “subject” in a law or measure, even though it was clear this had to do with one basic matter: Saving education in Oklahoma.
— OurChildrenOK (@OurChildrenOK) January 12, 2016
”Saving education in Oklahoma” is NOT hyperbole. Oklahoma has cut education funding the most of any state in the nation since the 2008 recession. Oklahoma is dead last in our region and next to the bottom nationwide in funding education on a per pupil basis. Oklahoma teacher salaries rank 49th in the nation. We have a major teacher shortage because of it. The class sizes are huge. Teachers are overworked and obviously not appreciated here. School districts are putting untrained and inexperienced people in front of students while legislators try to micro-manage standards and require more tests.This is called the Oklahoma standard of stupid.
Can we just be honest about it? Do a majority of Oklahoma voters simply not care about education? A sales-tax vote like the one proposed by Boren and his coalition will either make that apparent or not. The parsing of the issue by OCPA or the “other think tank” known as the Oklahoma Policy Institute or some same old white guy pontificating politician or the corporate media here, such as The Oklahoman, means absolutely nothing. It’s static. Don’t listen to it. If voters here say “no” to intellectualism, like they have in the past, then at least it’s on the record again. Enlightened people will just try again and again unless they leave here, and who can blame them?
So let the people decide. If the measure fails, then at least people here know the basics, and they can get out of here pronto or, if they have the money and most don’t, put their kids in private schools with the rich kids with the rich parents, who are benefiting from all the income tax cuts.
I want to make two points.
(1) The OCPA lawsuit was frivolous, petty and mean-spirited. One way or another this issue was going to go forward. OCPA took it to the court just to hassle good, well-meaning people who want to raise education funding in a state known notoriously throughout the country as an anti-intellectual space oddity in the world. This was also a childish, snarky attack on a long-time prominent university president and nationally-known state leader here in Oklahoma. I’ve been both a supporter and critic of Boren in the past, but I do respect and listen to him because he’s one of the most intelligent leaders in Oklahoma, and I believe he’s committed to doing what’s right for the state when it comes to education.
(2) The state sales tax here in Oklahoma is not one of the nation’s highest. Read here. The state’s sales tax rate of 4.5 percent is actually ranked 36th among states in the nation. Oklahoma does have a high “combined” sales tax rate because of local city taxes, but that’s a separate issue. (Read here.) That distinction is extremely important, and cities’ revenues are probably more impacted by Amazon and other types of online shopping than the state sales tax rate.The Bricktown Canal is the consolation prize. Enjoy watching the burger wrappers float down the scummy water as our children get short-changed by anti-education extremists and myopic thinking on the left.
I repeat: Oklahoma does NOT have a high STATE sales tax rate. An additional sales tax penny that goes exclusively (that’s the important word in this argument) to education is not some radical proposition. It’s sensible and, more importantly given the state’s current conservative political configuration, extremely doable. It could make something good happen. No one here is going to starve or go homeless because our kids are getting better educations. It’s just the opposite. But our “think” tanks here can’t “think” large enough or holistic enough to see it. Bottom line: It’s always the corporate dollars that are doing the “thinking.”
Boren and the education coalition Oklahoma’s Children, Our Future want voters to pass the measure to raise an approximate $615 million annually for schools and immediate teacher raises of $5,000. Oklahoma currently faces a severe teacher shortage, and much of that is because teachers can go to neighboring states, such as Texas, and make a lot more money. It’s not complicated. Teachers can go to Texas or Colorado, make $10,000 or so more a year, get a nice laptop computer and have better class equipment and supplies, or they can stay here for the low wages and huge classroom sizes while conservative politicians and The Oklahoman attack them on a daily basis.
I will say this over and over as this petition drive progresses: Liberals are absolutely right that this is a regressive tax. I get it. But what are we supposed to do? Lose an entire generation of students because of mediocre educational funding and terribly misplaced priorities? What is the state going to look like after that? Does this situation create intelligent voters that elect enlightened politicians, who privilege education? No, it doesn’t. Can it get worse here? Yes, it can.
The school kids who will benefit the most from the education sales tax increase are the state’s most vulnerable and impoverished. Cities or the state could also offer education tax rebates for families below the poverty line. Only one person—ONE PERSON—has responded to me on this point, though I’ve faced a huge amount of criticism from self-described liberals because I support the initiative knowing full well that sales taxes are, obviously, regressive. Again, what about EDUCATION TAX REBATES for people at or below the poverty line? That has a better chance of working, at least on the local level, than rolling back state income tax cuts for wealthy people.
Who are the real liberals and progressives? The people who sit back and dream of some magical change in the conservative political climate here along with a legislative rollback of the recent income tax cuts, more state funding for education and unicorns for everyone, or people who truly believe educating an impoverished child is worth one more penny for that specific child and for all of us in our community, people who will even go out in the coldest part of winter and collect signatures and debate people on the merits of education?
— OurChildrenOK (@OurChildrenOK) January 12, 2016