THE defeat of school bond issues often bring a call to change the law that requires they garner 60 percent approval by voters. We heard none of that this week from Cushing school officials who saw a proposal voted down.
Instead, Superintendent Koln Knight said simply, “It's been quite an education process, and it looks like we have more to do.”
Voters gave 50.5 percent approval to a $41.5 million package that would have resulted in a new middle school, two new gymnasiums, upgrades to the high school auditorium and other improvements. Knight pointed out that Cushing has enjoyed strong growth, but the prospect of higher property taxes in this economy made it a tough sell to voters.
Cushing might want to look to the Mid-Del School District as an example of how to turn things around. In September, voters there gave 81 percent approval to a $90.5 million bond package about a year after rejecting a much larger proposal. After the defeat, district officials started over and used community input to reshape the plan.
Oklahoma communities have long shown they will support bond issues, even big ones, if the slate of projects is palatable. An example is Mustang, where voters this week approved, by 63 percent to 37 percent, two bond issues totaling close to $100 million.
Years behind schedule, a visionary project being built on donated land, with federal, state and private funds, needs a lot more money to reach completion. We're not describing the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City but the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden in Tulsa. Garden management now says it could take 10 to 20 years more to finish the project than the 10 years originally promised. As is the case with the Indian museum, funding is the main reason for the delays. The museum here will get an infusion of private money — but only if the state agrees to pony up more funds. One thing that differentiates the two projects is that they aren't caught up in the capital envy Tulsans sometimes exhibit over public projects in Oklahoma City. Tulsans want a state-funded cultural museum as a condition of more state funding for the Indian museum. Oklahoma City isn't insisting that a garden project here get the same attention from the state that the Tulsa project has received.
As we celebrate the return of the 45th Infantry Brigade from Afghanistan and Kuwait, the leader of the Oklahoma National Guard offers his thoughts on their work. “Because of the 45th's successes in southern and southeastern Afghanistan, the United States is another step closer to ensuring that terrorists will never again use that country as a staging base to attack us,” said Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the adjutant general for Oklahoma. “The brigade was able to reduce the level of insurgent activities in multiple provinces and history will show they played a key role in setting the conditions that will give the Afghan people a chance to live better lives.” Oklahomans can be proud of and grateful for these men and women, who, as Deering put it, “answered the nation's call, many of them for their second, third, or even fourth deployment to ensure that their friends and neighbors back here at home remain safe and secure.”
March and April take a big bite for some Oklahoma taxpayers. The second half of property taxes are due by March 31. State and federal income tax returns must be filed — along with any money owed — by mid-April. Taxes have a long history. A proverb from ancient Lagash in Mesopotamia goes, “You can have a Lord, you can have a king, but the one to fear is the tax assessor.” We quote this from Paul Kriwaczek's new book “Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization.” Taxes and civilization go together like spring and tulips. Whether in the ancient Fertile Crescent or in modern America, functionaries at all levels get a cut on the activities of daily living such as owning property, buying books like “Babylon” or, if the Obamacare legal challenge fails, simply breathing. Shekels were currency in the ancient world. Shackles is what comes to mind at tax time every spring.
Gov. Mary Fallin can probably empathize to some degree with her colleague from Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell. McDonnell, whose party controlled both houses of the legislature for the first time in 12 years, began the legislative session by urging lawmakers to focus on issues such as job creation and state finances, and not get sidetracked by partisan fights. Fallin and GOP leaders pushed a similar agenda last year. In Virginia, members didn't listen very well. Republicans passed a number of prickly bills favored by social conservatives, and McDonnell signed them all. Minority Democrats got a measure of payback by gumming up the budgeting process — a special session was needed to complete their work. Social conservatives caused their share of headaches in Oklahoma a year ago but Fallin met several goals, including reform to the state pension system, changes to the workers' comp and civil justice systems, and government consolidation.
Jim Scroggins' departure as executive director of the Oklahoma Lottery is likely to be well received by legislative leaders. Scroggins had pushed for a change in state law that requires 35 percent of lottery earnings to go to education. His argument was that if the percentage were lowered, more money would be available for prizes, and that higher prizes would in turn draw more players. He was consistently rebuffed by Republicans who control the Legislature and who, on the whole, strongly oppose the lottery. Even so Scroggins, who left recently to take a position with the Illinois Lottery, is due a salute for his seven years of service, including getting our lottery up and running after voters approved the idea in November 2004.
A prison reform bill headed to the Oklahoma Senate isn't quite what House Speaker Kris Steele envisioned, but passage would represent progress nonetheless. A Senate committee this week approved Steele's House Bill 3052 after removing a section that would have let inmates who must serve 85 percent of their sentence begin earning good-time credits when they arrive in prison. Presently, those credits can't be earned until the inmate has served 85 percent of the sentence. The provision would have saved money and freed up prison beds, and its removal was unfortunate. However the rest of the bill is intact, and if approved it will result in an improved public safety network for Oklahoma. The full Senate shouldn't delay in giving its OK.