'Vote No on 744' gains support with caravan
An exhaustive, six-stop caravan across Oklahoma Oct. 18 yielded strong support for Oklahoma Farm Bureau's campaign to vote against State Question 744.
Making stops in El Reno, Shawnee, Clinton, Muskogee, Lawton and Tulsa, the caravan consisted of Farm Bureau leaders, state legislators and educators.
"We wanted to inform voters of the devastating impact to rural areas if SQ 744 passes," said Mike Spradling, OFB president. "We're concerned property taxes would increase, agriculture sales tax exemptions would go away, and rural fire departments, hospitals and nursing homes would all lose funding," Spradling said.
It is estimated the state question would cost up to $1.7 billion if passed.
"One of the major problems with 744 is there is no funding mechanism," said District 14 Rep. George Faught.
School consolidation, tax increases and health care costs would all go up in an effort to pay for 744.
"What really scares me is we will try to make up all that money by consolidating schools in a quick, knee-jerk reaction," said Kenny Beams, Ph.D., Ripley Schools superintendent.
The Department of Public Safety would suffer with the layoff of 125 state troopers, and the Department of Corrections would be forced to release as many as 8,400 inmates to meet budget requirements.
Speakers participating in the caravan made it clear they support education; however, this ballot initiative is the wrong tool.
"We want our children to have a quality education," Spradling said. "But we have to make sure they have the infrastructure, roads, bridges, buildings, food, etc. to support the effort."
"If this passes, there is no accountability of where this money will go," said District 57 Rep. Harold Wright. "It takes budget decisions out of the hands of state legislators, the people you voted to make the decisions."
Supporters voiced concern about how the proposed funding would be used.
"There's nothing specific about where this money will be spent," said Jack Sherry, president of the Holdenville school board. "There's little talk of reducing administrative costs."
"We only have so much money to spend, and there are no new funding sources out there," said District 9 Sen. Earl Garrison. "The state is facing a serious budget deficit and there is no way out of this for the next two years. This is not the time for this (state question 744)."
"We're not spending the money in the right place," said District 47 Rep. Leslie Osborn. "That's because too much is going to school administration. If you lower administrative costs, you get teacher salary increases and smaller class sizes without a large budget increase."