Vote No on SQ779

Each Sunday, The New York Times lists under the heading “What You Get” three homes across the country selling for the same price.

On October 16, three homes were listed at $1,200,000. One was in Gulf Port, Mississippi, the second in Salt Lake City, Utah and the third in Tulsa. Each home was very attractive. What was most telling was the ad valorem taxes paid on the property. In Gulf Port the tax is $3,895, in Salt Lake City it is $5,000 and in Tulsa a whopping $13,000.

Many people would like for you to believe we have some of the lowest taxes. That is simply not true.

On November 8, Oklahomans will be asked to approve David Boren’s $615 million sales tax increase under State Question 779. Unfortunately, there are no educational reforms in the tax plan. Mr. Boren has promised state leaders that if SQ 779 passes he will work for reforms. That is like an alcoholic promising to quit drinking if you will buy him just one more bottle.

State Auditor Gary Jones has pointed out that a large number of Oklahoma counties do not tax themselves to pay for common education. They rely on the state and larger school districts to fund their schools. This must change.

Oklahoma has 516 school districts. Many of these districts have student enrollment of less than 150 students.   The argument made is we cannot lose “our school.” That is misleading since what reformers want is a consolidation of administrations. This alone would save millions of dollars annually.

Another problem in common education is that every three years, Oklahoma loses 50 percent of its teachers who never return to teaching. Dr. Matthew Hendricks of The University of Tulsa points out that the real problem with the way our teachers are paid contributes to their leaving. He began to examine how restructuring salaries might affect teacher turnover and productivity. What Dr. Hendricks found is that if the salary schedule were adjusted to give newer teachers a pay bump earlier in their careers, they would be more likely to stay in the public school system. This configuration of when teachers receive raises wouldn’t cost the state any additional tax dollars.

In July, Dr. Hendricks met in Oklahoma City with the superintendents’ advisory committee to share his thoughts and research. Unfortunately, like most new ideas in Oklahoma education, Dr. Hendricks recommendations went nowhere. I usually can tell if a person is motivated by the sparkle in their eyes. At the Oklahoma City meeting, most district superintendents had the eye of a dead fish. No wonder our scores are where they are.

One of the big problems for Oklahomans is our state doesn’t border Montana or Iowa. We border Texas – which has no personal income tax. If we approve SQ 779, our sales tax in Tulsa would rise to 9.517 percent coupled with a maximum marginal income tax rate of 5.25 percent.

SQ 779 is a regressive tax that hurts the poor disproportionately. A higher state sales tax also hurts traditional retailers and local governments. People who can will shop online to save that 9.517 percent.

Educators have not done a good job with what they have. Two years ago, I wrote about the average ACT score at Will Rogers College High School. It was 14. All that will get you is a hamburger flipping job.

We need reforms in public education. If educators cannot do that then give our citizens their money back and let them find a private school or charter.