Oklahoma County has again delayed action on a proposal to tax our citizens to build a new jail and adjoining juvenile detention facility. Rather than the proposed sales tax plan, I favor a much less costly way to address the jail's undeniable problems. We do have options. Our first response shouldn't be to impose yet another extended sales tax on the public.
The jail was built in 1991. It was flawed from the beginning. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice cited 60 deficiencies in the structure and operation of the jail. Sheriff John Whetsel, supported by the county commissioners, has addressed 56 of those issues; last year the jail won accreditation from the American Correctional Association. The remaining few issues aren't serious enough to require the construction of an entire new jail.
Proposed is a 10-year, half-penny countywide sales tax, to raise $350 million to replace the jail and build a new juvenile detention center, both on a site that's yet to be purchased. Keep in mind that sales taxes aren't imposed in a vacuum; they're stacked on top of existing state and city sales taxes (plus other temporary levies such as MAPS), which in some communities are approaching 10 percent.
In addition, the recent fiscal cliff legislation in Washington restored a 2 percent rollback in the federal payroll tax, which finances Social Security. So every working Oklahoman just saw his or her disposable income trimmed by 2 percent. There is a point where an additional half or 1 percent drop in purchasing power (which a sales tax represents) begins to harm the economy and slow overall economic growth.