Courts nixes lawsuit to stop sales tax vote

The liberal Oklahoma Supreme Court has turned down a challenge to an initiative petition to raise sales taxes to benefit public education.

The lobbying arm of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs challenged the petition because it contains more than one subject and is therefore in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.

The court voted 6-3 that it had only one subject.

“The proposed initiative petition clearly constitutes a single scheme to be presented to voters, and each section is germane to creating and implementing the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund,” the opinion stated.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren is behind the petition, which will need 123,725 signatures to get on the November ballot. A 1-cent sales tax increase would raise about $615 million a year. Proponents claim it would provide a $5,000 raise to teachers. The petition requires that the taxes collected be used by the Legislature to enhance and not supplant public education appropriations.

“The court decision today is a great victory for the school children and the people of Oklahoma,” Boren said. “It will allow the people to vote to solve our crisis in education. The court was absolutely right to not stand in the way of the right of the people to vote on this crucial issue. The reasoning of the majority was strong and correct.”

Oklahoma is facing a billion dollar budget shortfall for the next fiscal year this summer due to declining state taxes in the light of a drop in oil prices. The state has a teacher shortage and the Oklahoma Board of Education just cut about $46 million from payments to public schools.  Opponents have about one week to protest the ruling.  Secretary of State Chris Benge said his office has 15 to 30 days to start the timing of the petition process. Supporters will have 90 days to collect the needed signatures to get on the ballot in November.

“In the coming months we will continue our efforts to prevent the Boren tax increase, making sure all Oklahomans across the state understand that the Boren proposal would force on them the highest sales-tax burden in the country and also that nearly half of the money from the tax increase would never make it to teachers,” said Dave Bond, CEO of OCPA Impact. “We’ll also work during the legislative session, which is about to begin, to advance an alternative option for funding real pay raises for every teacher in Oklahoma and hiring additional teachers to address the shortages many classrooms face across the state. This can be accomplished without teachers having to give up a portion of their pay raise because of a tax increase, and if the Legislature acts this session, teachers can start receiving the pay raise immediately, as opposed to next year.”