The Daily Ardmoreite
  • SQ 744, 754 and 755 draw voters’ interest

  • Because voters in the upcoming general election will be facing a lengthy ballot that includes 11 state questions, those who learn about the issues before entering the polls on Nov. 2 will be better informed than most of their peers.

    • email print
  • Because voters in the upcoming general election will be facing a lengthy ballot that includes 11 state questions, those who learn about the issues before entering the polls on Nov. 2 will be better informed than most of their peers.
    Former state election board secretary Lee Slater said voters who wait until they are in the voting booth to try to read the 11 state questions will not have time to understand each one.
    State Question 744
    Because of its potential impact on the state budget, State Question 744 has drawn a great deal of opposition over the past few months. However, supporters of the ballot measure say it is needed because Oklahoma schools are severely underfunded in comparison to those in neighboring states.
    Oklahoma ranked 49th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in per-pupil expenditures in 2008, according to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Only Utah and Idaho ranked lower.
    The only question on the ballot that resulted from a signature drive, the proposed constitutional amendment would require Oklahoma to meet the regional average of per-student spending in surrounding states within three years. Estimates of how much the proposal would cost Oklahoma during the next three years range from about $900 million to $1.7 billion.
    The ballot measure has no funding mechanism in place and does not call for a tax increase.
    The latest group to oppose the measure is the Oklahoma Hospital Association, which said SQ 744 would devastate funding for and reduce access to health care in the state. The hospital association is a member of One Oklahoma Coalition, a group opposing the initiative that includes chambers of commerce, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, the transportation industry and the state workers union. Gov. Brad Henry serves as the coalition’s honorary chairman.
    Supporters of the ballot measure include the Oklahoma Education Association, the National Education Association, Oklahoma Association of School Administrators, teachers, school employees and others who want increased funding for education. Their spokesman is Walton Robinson, communications director for Yes on 744 campaign. Ardmore High School teacher Johncy  Martin said he believes SQ 744 is badly needed.
    “In the past few years because of the economic situation, we are losing good teachers and have larger class sizes than I have ever seen in my six years of teaching in Ardmore,” he said. “We just don’t have the money from the state level that we need to adequately fund education. The benchmarks are going up, and we are putting the kids at risk of not achieving those benchmarks.”
    Martin suggested the state place a moratorium on industry tax breaks as a way of meeting the SQ 744 funding mandates.
    Page 2 of 3 - The Ardmore Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors is on record as opposing SQ 744.
    “We need to improve education and increase funding for it; but we need to reform the antiquated system and we need to put accountability measures in place,” Chamber President and CEO Wes Stucky wrote in a recent column in The Ardmoreite. “State Question 744 is the wrong idea at the wrong time.”
    I oppose SQ 744,” state Rep. Pat Ownbey said. “First of all, there is no funding source. There is no accountability, and there is no guarantee the money would end up in the classroom.”
    State Question 754
    State Question 754 was approved by the Legislature in response to SQ 744 being placed on the ballot.
    This proposal would prohibit constitutional spending requirements based on predetermined formulas or references to spending levels in other states. It also has a provision that says once it is adopted, it cannot be amended or repealed.
    “There is no doubt in my mind that if SQ 744 hadn’t shown up on the ballot, SQ 754 would have never been (there),” Ownbey said.
    In theory, those who oppose SQ 744 would vote for SQ 754. SQ 744 mandates higher spending for public education; SQ 754 would permanently ban mandating certain spending formulas for public schools or anything else. Critics of the measure said if passed, SQ 754 could potentially undo a number of state funding formulas already in place and ultimately disrupt the state budget.
    Some legal experts said if voters pass both measures, the one with the most votes will prevail, but not everyone agrees.
    “If both questions are approved by voters, it almost guarantees the issue would be tied up in the court system for years,” Sean Murphy of the Associated Press wrote.
    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jari Askins opposes both SQ 744 and SQ 754. Her opponent, Mary Fallin, opposes SQ 744 and is undecided on SQ 754. The Ardmore Chamber of Commerce supports SQ 754. Ownbey said he supports SQ 754 now, but intends to look further into the possibility of unintended consequences.
    State Question 755
    State Question 755 would prohibit Oklahoma courts from considering or using international law or Islamic law when deciding cases. Since judges in Oklahoma are already bound to follow state and federal law in their courtrooms, critics question why such a measure is even on the ballot. The question does offer voters an outlet to voice their anger at followers of the Muslim faith.
    State Rep. Rex Duncan, who helped get the measure on the ballot, said that the values of the American judicial system are different than the values of other countries’ legal systems.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Oklahomans should not have to worry that their rights could be undermined by foreign court rulings in countries that do not have our respect for individual liberty and justice for all,” Duncan said in a press release.
    “This radical proposition is astonishing and unprecedented in American jurisprudence,” Walter Jenny Jr. said in an editorial in the Edmond Sun. “The proposal could also hurt Oklahoma business interests.
    Oklahoma’s Department of Commerce reports that about 14,000 foreign companies do business in Oklahoma, employing more than 35,000 people. We have two foreign trade zones and ocean-going ports on the Arkansas River.
    “Oklahoma exports exceed $4 billion a year,” he continued. “In a lawsuit between an Oklahoman and a foreign company, this constitutional amendment might prohibit an Oklahoma judge from looking to the legal precepts of a foreign country in order to dispense justice, even if doing so would favor the Oklahoman.”
    District Judge Tom Walker said the bill could have other unintended consequences.
    “The ballot title sounds innocent enough, but what is in the body of the measure is different from the wording of the ballot title,” he said. “The explanation is a little shy of the mark.”
    Walker said the state question, if passed, would impact how the court considers the status of Native American children, for example. He added that it would also change how the court considers matters affecting foreign nationals who live or do business in Oklahoma.
    Walker said he had no position on the question since he is a sitting judge. Askins opposes the bill.
    “The last time I looked at my old notes from law school, most of America’s jurisprudence system was based on England and jurisprudence there, so I think we need to be, really, smarter, about how we phrase some of these things,” she said.
    Fallin said she initially supported the question, but conceded there could be unintended consequences.
    “I’m a reasonable person,” she said, “and I want to take a close look at it, and I think all of us should.”
    The Ardmore Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on SQ 755.
    “Both SQ 754 and SQ 755 look good on the surface, but both could have some unintended consequences,” Ownbey said. “I am willing to look into both measures.”
      • calendar