One bright spot among the backwards and weird political morass this legislative season has been the steady and professional efforts of a group of Oklahomans to improve funding for education.
— OSSBA (@OSSBAoklahoma) February 17, 2016
Oklahoma’s Children Our Future, a coalition supported by University of Oklahoma President David Boren, officially kicked off their initiative petition drive Tuesday to get a measure on the November ballot that would raise the state sales tax by one penny. The measure would raise approximately $615 million a year exclusively for education.
Even those people who oppose the measure because they find the proposed tax increase regressive or aren’t too enamored by Boren these days because of what some see as his overly cozy relationship with Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm have to admit the initiative-petition group has presented itself with the type of intellectualism and professionalism much lacking in Oklahoma’s public square these days.
Combine the political craziness of the GOP-dominated state government dished out here on a weekly basis with the avalanche of Donald Trump-fueled Republican debates, and, by contrast, Oklahoma’s Children Our Future sets a model of how citizens can and should participate responsibly and reasonably in civic matters and elections.
Here’s the Oklahoma’s Children Our Future site, which outlines State Question 799. Essentially, the one-penny increase, if approved by voters, would provide more annual money to our education systems and would fund $5,000 raises for our teachers, who are terribly underpaid by any given assessment, including regional comparisons. I encourage everyone to read the entire initiative petition. The measure would also provide additional funding for higher education that could limit tuition increases and the career tech system.
— OurChildrenOK (@OurChildrenOK) February 16, 2016
I’ve written in favor of the sales tax increase for several months now. Let’s go through some of the opposition “camps,” keeping in mind that I’m generalizing somewhat, especially when it comes to the left/right dichotomy, for the sake of debate.
(1) Some people on the left oppose it because sales taxes are considered regressive. Proportionally, lower income people do spend more of their money on basic necessities and thus will pay more proportionally of their money in sales taxes if the measure passes.
(2) Some people on the right oppose it because they are against all tax increases and would rather work to privatize public education through school vouchers parents could use to send their children to private schools. They are against anything, whether they express this openly or not, that might strengthen public schools. These are extreme, right-wing positions. Of course, the prevailing Oklahoma political scene right now is extreme and right-wing so what can one really expect?
(3) Some people, however they define themselves politically, are opposed to the measure because when local sales taxes are combined with the state’s nationally low sales tax rate, Oklahoma gets ranked high in overall sales taxes. This argument is more practical than anything else. Will cities lose out on sales tax revenue if taxes are raised because even more people will shop online or purchase big-ticket items in other states? These people don’t necessarily see the issue in broader political affiliations but are concerned about cities’ finances.
My short responses:
(1) It’s only one penny. Lower income families with school-age children will benefit the most under the proposal.
(2) The dismantling of public education is really the dismantling of democracy. Public education ensures everyone has a fair shot of success.
(3) The impact of growing internet sales on local sales taxes is an issue faced by cities across the country. Are we going back to some supposed idyllic pre-internet era? No. Cities or states should try to recoup certain sales taxes from online retailers or look to other streams of revenues, which is easy enough. That’s the issue. It’s important to note, the state sales tax rate is on the lower end when it compared to other states. In 2015, the state’s sales tax rate of 4.5 percent was ranked 36th in the nation.
I understand these counter arguments won’t sway many people. I sense most voters have made up their minds. The initiative petition drive has been debated for weeks in the media now. But here are the facts: Oklahoma’s per pupil spending rate is often calculated at 49th in the nation in any given year. Oklahoma’s teacher salaries are currently ranked 49th in the nation. The state is losing teachers to neighboring states because they offer better salaries. Oklahoma has cut education the most of any state on a percentage basis since the 2008 Great Recession. Our schools have overcrowded classrooms and are cutting programs.
We’re facing a major education funding crisis and the state faces a $1.3 billion budget shortfall next year, but Oklahoma’s Children Our Future, and Boren, one of the state’s most prominent educators and leaders, are offering a sensible plan that isn’t going to send lower income families into poverty but will strengthen our public schools. It won’t ruin the finances of Oklahoma City and Tulsa but will send a positive, pro-education message.
Sending that positive message alone could kickstart other positive pro-education initiatives here. Wouldn’t that be something to finally cheer about?
— KOKH FOX 25 (@OKCFOX) February 16, 2016