Originally Published in The Oklahoman
Written By Diana Baldwin
dbaldwin [at] oklahoman [dot] com
EDMOND — City officials are preparing resolutions opposing two state questions — one calls for an additional 1 percent sales tax for Oklahoma education and the other amends the state’s constitution addressing agricultural industry rights.
State Question 779, the sales tax increase for education, and State Question 777, farm and ranch amendment, are on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Sample resolutions, written by Mayor Charles Lamb and Councilwoman Elizabeth Waner, were presented to council members Monday for consideration.
City Attorney Steve Murdock was instructed to make changes and put the two resolutions on the agenda for the July 25 council meeting.
The Oklahoma Municipal League, the Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma, the City Managers Association of Oklahoma and the Municipal Clerks, Treasurers & Finance Officers Association have already passed a joint resolution opposing the sales tax while affirming support of teachers having competitive salaries and supporting comprehensive tax reform.
Edmond council members also said they support the need for education funding and teacher pay increases.
Proponents estimated the 1 percent tax increase, proposed by University of Oklahoma President David Boren, would generate $615 million per year. Of that, 69.5 percent would go to common education, to be used in part for $5,000 pay raises for every public school teacher in Oklahoma.
Revenue also would go to programs to improve early reading, boost high school graduation rates, and bolster college and career readiness.
The remaining 30.5 percent of the $615 million would be split among higher education, CareerTech and early childhood education.
Edmond officials are concerned because Oklahoma is the only state where towns, cities and municipalities are limited to and rely entirely on sales tax revenue to finance the general fund for services including police, fire, parks, street maintenance and other general services.
Edmond has an 8.25 percent sales tax rate. The state gets 4.5 percent, and the city receives the remaining 3.75 percent.
Of the city’s portion, 2 cents goes to the general fund, a quarter-cent goes to firefighters and an eighthcent goes to police. Parks get an eighth of a cent, and three-fourths of a cent goes to the 2000 capital improvement fund.
The remaining half-cent sales tax was approved Oct. 11, 2011, for five years, to pay for the new public safety center. The tax will end March 31, but voters agreed to extend that tax another 10 years to pay for capital improvement projects.
Oklahoma’s average sales tax rate is 8.77 percent. Oklahoma ranks sixth nationally for overall combined state tax and would rank No. 1 with the passage of SQ 779, council member Waner wrote in her proposed resolution.
“A high national ranking would negatively impact economic development for Oklahoma, as well as negatively impact the poorest households in Oklahoma ” she said.
Officials leading the petition effort to call for the sales tax increase said they collected more than 200,000 signatures, well over the 124,000 needed to bring the question to voters in November.
Backers of the state question said Oklahoma’s low national ranking in average teacher pay and the 16 percent cut in higher education’s state appropriation for fiscal year 2017 are reasons to pass the sales tax increase.
This state question is a constitutional amendment that would prohibit future legislatures or state regulatory agencies from passing any laws or adopting rules and regulations that negatively affect the rights of farmers and ranchers.
Opponents said the vaguely written state question could turn a 5-acre lot within a city or town into agriculture land with the municipality not having any remedies to control the activities.
SQ 777 would compromise the city’s ability to provide an ample and safe water supply to Edmond residents at a reasonable expense, Waner said.
Cities have the right to regulate land usage and zoning according to community desires and needs, she said.
This proposed constitutional amendment protects a specific industry. No other industry in Oklahoma has protection in the state constitution, Waner said.
Proponents said Right to Farm protects Oklahoma jobs and defends the hardworking farm and ranch families that drive our rural economy from out-of-state animal rights groups that have targeted agriculture nationwide.