By Patrick B. McGuigan
A progressive think tank, the Oklahoma Policy Institute (OK Policy), has issued a detailed critique of State Question 744. If approved by voters in November, the ballot measure would shift roughly $1 billion in state funding into common education and away from all other government spending programs.
S.Q. 744 came to the ballot as a result of an initiative petition drive guided and financed by the state’s largest labor union, the Oklahoma Education Association.
Soon after OK Policy’s analysis was released today (Tuesday, July 20), a spokesman for supporters of the initiative accused OK Policy staff and directors of making “backroom deals” guided by “a special interest agenda.”
OK Policy said in today’s release, “S.Q. 744 creates the strong likelihood of setting the state further behind in all our other critical areas of public investment, including higher education, health care, human services, and public safety. This outcome would harm all Oklahomans, including our schoolchildren and teachers.”
OK Policy distilled the analysis of its report with these words: “According to the formula that would be entrenched in the state Constitution, Oklahoma’s per pupil expenditures would have to reach the regional average over the next three years. Since the regional average is itself a moving target, OK Policy projects that this mandate would require funding for Common Education to increase by $1.7 billion between FY ’12 and FY ’14. This would come at a time when the state is already facing a budget hole of over $1 billion in non-recurring revenues and core services are struggling to recover from two years of reduced funding. This situation would necessarily require deeper budget cuts, tax increases, or both, even assuming a strong economic turnaround.”
OK Policy continued, saying that the OEA initiative “would transfer decisions about Oklahoma’s budget out of the hands of Oklahomans and into the hands of legislators, voters, and judges outside our borders. The language of the ballot measure contains a host of ambiguities, and could put local funding of education into doubt. In addition, the measure fails to tie funding increases to any standards or goals for improving educational quality and outcomes.”
OK Policy is known for supporting government spending to finance public education, but David Blatt director of OK Policy reflected, “We believe SQ 744 is the wrong solution for Oklahoma, and we urge Oklahoma voters to vote ‘no’ in November.”
OK Policy is the latest organization to comment critically on S.Q. 744. A broad coalition of groups from across the political spectrum has formed to organize against the OEA initiative.
After release of the OK Policy analysis at mid-day, Walton Robinson, Yes on 744 communications director, slammed “OPI” in a prepared statement.
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Robinson said, “The fact that the OPI Board voted to take a political position first should call any of their research into question. Any legitimate think tank would never put backroom deals before policy development. The apparent hijacking of a public policy advocate like OPI proves just how far champions of the status quo are willing to go to rob Oklahomans of the opportunity to give their kids a better future.”
Responding to a request for comment from CapitolBeatOK, Blatt rebutted Robinson, saying “They have no response to the substance of our analysis so instead they tried a vague ‘ad hominem’ attack on the organization. We stand by the credibility of our analysis showing that SQ 744 would leave Oklahoma further behind in all our other critical areas of public investment, including higher education, health care, human services, and public safety.”