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State questions present Oklahoma voters with difficult choices

Oklahoma voters will decide the fate of six state questions on Nov. 6 — 758, 759, 762, 764, 765 and 766.
by Randy Ellis Published: November 4, 2012

Lawmakers passed a bill in May to let voters decide whether the state should still use affirmative action policies in hiring and awarding contracts. If passed, State Question 759 would prohibit the use of affirmative action in state government, including at the state's universities.

Exceptions would be allowed in cases where gender is a bona fide qualification, court orders require preferential treatment or federal funds would be lost if affirmative action policies were abandoned.

Affirmative action refers to policies that give preference to job applicants who are minorities or minority-owned businesses bidding on state contracts. The intent of the policies is to increase diversity in government.

Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, said he authored the bill because affirmative action is outdated and unneeded. He said the state shouldn't give preferential treatment to anyone.

Opponents of the bill include the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. Opponents say it would set back state efforts to promote diversity in government. They say Oklahoma has not yet reached a level playing field for minorities and that affirmative action allows minorities to have a fair chance at jobs with the state.

State Question 766 (intangible property).

All intangible property would be declared exempt from ad valorem property taxation if State Question 766 is approved.

Some intangible property, such as cash, stocks and bonds, already is exempt from property taxes. This would expand the exemption to include many other types of intangible property, including patents, licenses, land leases and mineral leases.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission has estimated centrally assessed businesses such as public utilities, railroads and airlines will collectively receive a $50 million tax break if the state question is approved.

Some school administrators have expressed concerns it could financially harm public schools.

The State Chamber is urging Oklahomans to vote “yes” on the issue. Chamber officials say a 2009 state Supreme Court decision has opened the door for county assessors to begin collecting intangible taxes from local businesses and homeowners who haven't been required to pay them in the past. They say approval of this state question would stop that.

State Question 758 (property tax cap).

A “yes” vote on State Question 758 would place a 3 percent annual cap on the amount county assessors can increase the appraisals of owner-occupied homes and agricultural land. The cap now is 5 percent.

Legislative backers of the proposal say it is designed to restrain the growth in property tax bills, which are especially difficult for senior citizens and people on fixed incomes.

Opponents say the proposed change would shift the tax burden and that people who have recently purchased homes would end up paying more.

Some educators also have expressed concerns the change would limit growth revenue for public schools and vocational-technical centers.

State Question 764 (water bonds).

A “yes” vote on State Question 764 would give the Oklahoma Water Resources Board the ability to issue $300 million in bonds, but the intention is that the entity would never need to use that money.

Instead, the bonding capacity would be used to back low-interest loans for local municipalities to upgrade, construct and repair their water and wastewater systems. The bonds would only be issued if the cities default on their loans, and in that case the state would be on the hook for paying off the debts.

Supporters include the State Chamber and a number of mayors who say the loan-backing arrangement is needed to keep the state's water infrastructure updated. They say it also would save taxpayers money by helping obtain low-interest rates on loans.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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