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College presidents hear warning

By Susan Simpson Published: July 8, 2006
Some college presidents say a proposed taxpayers bill of rights would devastate higher education efforts in the state.

Oklahoma Education Association
Alliance for Oklahoma's Future
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
Oklahomans in Action

Several dozen college administrators attended a forum on the issue Friday, hosted by the Higher Education Alumni Council of Oklahoma.

Speaker Toni Larson told the group that a taxpayer bill of rights, called TABOR, had terrible economic effects in Colorado, hitting road funding and higher education the hardest.

Higher education funding fell by a third, and campuses were forced to cut financial aid and increase student costs to stay afloat.

“It’s a total failure in Colorado, so why would you want it in Oklahoma?” said Larson, director of Independent Higher Education of Colorado.

Colorado passed a “time-out” measure last year that lifted spending restrictions for five years, but the issue is far from resolved in her state, Larson said.

Oklahoma’s proposal, pushed by a group called Oklahomans in Action, would restrict government spending by limiting it to inflation increases and population growth. An initiative petition that would put it on the ballot this fall is being challenged by opponents, who say thousands of signatures were invalid.

“TABOR is frightening,” said Rose State President Terry Britton, who said his students can’t afford to pay more out of pocket for their education.

State Higher Education Chancellor Paul Risser said that would result in fewer college graduates, which would hurt the state’s economy.

“In Oklahoma, our only hope for economic prosperity is an educated work force,” he said.

Larry Devane, president of Redlands Community College, said that because most campuses don’t get local property tax dollars, there would be no other way to make up state losses other than increasing student costs.

Oklahoma already has a system of tax and spending checks, such as the balanced budget requirement, constitutional reserve fund and voter approval of any tax increase, said Robb Gray of Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future, a group opposing TABOR.

Oklahomans in Action claims those laws are inadequate, and that higher education wouldn’t be first on the chopping block.

The group says TABOR will reduce government waste by putting politicians on a budget.

“This puts the legislators in a position where they must prioritize and can no longer pass the buck to special interest groups,” said Pat Highland, an organizer of the group.

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