IN seven months, Oklahomans will go to the polls to vote on a full slate of candidates ranging from governor to U.S. senator, although it can be argued the most important ballot item deals not with personalities but with priorities.
State Question 744, if approved, would require that per-pupil spending in Oklahoma’s public schools be brought to the regional average. The Oklahoma Education Association had no trouble raising the money and collecting the signatures needed to get this question on the ballot, and it attached a catchy name: HOPE (Helping Oklahoma Public Education). We can hear the sales pitch now: Are you in favor of education? Then vote yes. And voters should vote yes, if they’re satisfied with the generally miserable state of Oklahoma’s roads and bridges, because passage of HOPE will mean a lot less money to maintain our highways. Why? Because bringing per-pupil spending to the regional average will require an influx of about $850 million, and that money has to come from somewhere. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has been swimming upstream for decades, and only in the past few years has the Legislature boosted appropriations to a point that gives the agency a fighting chance to make a dent in its multibillion-dollar backlog of work. Passage of HOPE would stop that progress in a hurry. Oklahomans who are OK with drug offenders and the mentally ill having even fewer state-supported treatment options than are available today should by all means vote to approve SQ 744.