Editor’s note: A summary of answers from the Candidate Forum held at the Ardmore Convention Center by the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, Ardmore Young Professionals and Leadership Greater Ardmore Alumni on Tuesday from Rep. Tommy Hardin and Carter County Commissioner Jerry Alvord will appear in the Thursday edition of The Ardmoreite.

The final forum of the evening included Republican Tammy Townley and Democrat Cheryl Key, both candidates running for State Representative for House District 48, which encompasses parts of Carter, Murray and Garvin counties and include Ardmore, Healdton, Ratliff City, Tatums, Springer, Gene Autry and part of Davis.

Question 1: Education has been at the forefront of this state’s political conversation for some time. Even with measures that increased funding last legislative session, teacher pay, aging curriculum and low performance still haunt the state’s education system. What changes to the system, particularly regarding funding and accountability, would you propose to address this important issue?

Key: “I do appreciate the fact that our state legislators approved additional funding,” Key said, adding that she thinks things are looking promising with regard to taxes coming in.
“It would be premature to say we need to raise taxes,” Key said. “At the same time, I think if we find this isn’t holding, we have other areas we can go to for further funding.”
Key said each school system is subject to audit and the results are available online.
“I think where people are frustrated is that we’re not seeing the performance levels increase,” Key said., adding that substance abuse issues, increased incarceration rates and mental health issues have led to Ardmore being one of the three largest communities in the state suffering with untreated issues which filter down to the children. Key said those children that have experienced trauma need special help so they can learn, something several legislators have discussed at the Capitol.

Townley: “I believe we have ample resources already in place with the gross production tax going up and the increase in pay our teachers have already gotten. I believe we have to have some restructuring of our agencies to get more income free because I truly feel like our education system is excellent.”
Townley said the 30-day testing needs to be moved back to give an extra 30 days of instruction.
“We’ve got the goals and the income there,” Townley said. “We just need to restructure and I think we can make it happen.”

Question 2: State Question 800 would amend the state constitution to require 5 percent of the collections on oil and gas to be deposited in a trust fund known as Oklahoma Vision Fund, to help address long-term needs. Do you support the proposal, and if not, what solution do you propose?

Key: “I have mixed emotions about that. I understand why we would like to level our income between good and bad times.”
Key said she’s still researching the topic, but it seems more logical to use the rainy day fund that is already in place.
“We’re going to have to do a lot of soul searching on this one,” Key said.

Townley: “I’m not exactly for it. Not only does it not have the cap, as Sen. (Frank) Simpson pointed out, but it doesn’t say where the funds will be spent.”
Townley said the question doesn’t state whether the funds will go to teacher salaries, in-classroom, per-pupil funding or “just into a big pot.”
Townley further said she thinks an amendment to the state constitution should come with some provisions.
“I just really feel like if we do this, if we amend our constitution, we’re not doing any special favors to our school system,” Townley said.

Question 3: There has been significant discussion of tax breaks and incentives to help balance the budget, especially those given to the wind energy industry. What are your thoughts on the importance of those promised tax credits?

Key: “Having been part of the Ardmore Development Authority for six years, I realize the importance of tax incentives and credits. We do lose money to a certain extent, but we could be losing all kinds of businesses we’ve been able to bring to Ardmore.”
Key said two industrial parks and most of the Ardmore Airpark have been filled thanks to tax incentives.
Key said Oklahoma legislators created a committee to study the effectiveness of the tax incentives already in place.
“The ones that weren’t working, they let sunset or terminated them,” Key said. “If they were working, they kept them. I, too, believe that if you make a promise to someone, you keep the promise and you make sure that your word is your bond.”

Townley: “They are going to sunset in 2020. No more tax credits have been issued for the wind industry. I truly believe that we are kind of selling the wind industry a little short.”
Townley said many aren’t aware that wind energy supports many local schools with their ad valorem taxes. In some regions, Townley said the renewable resource is the largest contributor to those ad valorem taxes.
“I would like to see more of that energy stay in our state,” Townley said. “I don’t think a small gross production tax on wind energy would be a bad thing.”