By Jay Hansen
Unless otherwise linked, the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s coverage of the 2012 Oklahoma State Questions is the source for all material.
State Question 758: Reduce the property tax valuation cap
This measure amends the State Constitution. It amends Section 8B of Article 10.
The measure deals with real property taxes also called ad valorem taxes. These taxes are based on several factors. One factor is the fair cash value of the property.
The measure changes the limits on increases in fair cash value. Now, increases are limited to 5% of fair cash value in any taxable year.
The measure changes the cap on increases to 3% for some property. The 3% cap would apply to homestead exempted property. The cap would also apply to agricultural land.
The measure also removes obsolete language.
My vote: No
Commentary: This is just another way for Republicans to shut down the government. As I’ve written about before, most forms of cutting taxes, capping taxes, abolishing taxes, or making it politically impossible to ever raise taxes are just a way to create a need for government cutbacks. The political right end of the spectrum believes in smaller government, and they’re going to get it one way or another. By cutting taxes, revenues go down. As revenues go down, spending will ultimately have to go down too or deficits will go up. When spending goes down, government shrinks because there are fewer public programs to help the middle and lower class, including basic programs like public education and safety (both of which were cut in the last state budget). Right now, Oklahoma is heavily in debt; I don’t think we should be ruling out any form of revenue increases, especially given that it’s already all-but impossible to raise taxes in Oklahoma, as it requires a supermajority in the legislature. Republicans have stuck to this method of shrinking the government and making it less effective at actually caring for the public because it’s largely unnoticed. The average, uninformed voter (which is a majority these days) loves tax cuts, as it gives them more money to spend as they see freely and appeases the instinctual urge to get “big, bad government” off their backs. Being largely uninformed, however, means they lack forethought or knowledge of the long-term consequences of such policy. They can help in the short-term, but in the long term do serious damage by way of racking up debt and cutting programs that the working and lower classes need. Less funding also means the government becomes less effective at its job, increasing animosity towards the government on the part of the people, who all too often only turn around and demand more tax cuts and more spending cuts, thus making these same programs and branches of the government even less effective, perpetuating a viscous cycle. This state question, along with state question 766, are just the newest way Republicans have chosen to push this attack.
State Question 759: Banning affirmative action
This measure adds a new section to the State Constitution. It adds Section 36 to Article II.
The measure deals with three areas of government action. These areas are employment, education and contracting.
In these areas, the measure does not allow affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs give preferred treatment based on race, color or gender. They also give preferred treatment based on ethnicity or national origin. Discrimination on these bases is also not permitted.
The measure permits affirmative action in three instances. 1. When gender is a bonafide qualification, it is allowed. 2. Existing court orders and consent decrees that require preferred treatment will continue and can be followed. 3. Affirmative action is allowed when needed to keep or obtain federal funds.
The measure applies to the State and its agencies. It applies to counties, cities and towns. It applies to school districts. It applies to other State subdivisions.
The measure applies only to actions taken after its approval by the people.
My vote: No
Commentary: This one is much further reaching than most realize. First of all, people argue against it saying it causes discrimination, but here’s the problem; that exact same argument could be used to defend affirmative action, so I don’t think that’s the most legitimate debate to be having. Affirmative action is the primary way we ensure our society remains racially integrated. Without it, it would be extremely easy to slip back into racial segregation. By maintaining a bare minimum level of diversity within various public sectors we prevent individual racism from ever developing in the first place. If you grow up or work in an environment without a certain minority every day of your life, you’re much more prone to develop stereotypes or false concepts about that particular minority. Now, at the same time, I do understand the core flaw of affirmative action, and I do agree it’s not the most ideal way of preventing racism and discrimination as it can sometimes favor those who are actually not as skilled or qualified for certain positions simply because they belong to a minority. To that, allow me to ask a question; if there are so many members of a minority that are so dramatically less qualified than the majority white population, doesn’t that say something about the structure of our society to begin with? Solving the issue of poverty, lack of education, unemployment, and many other problems that plague minorities more than the white population is one of the most difficult of our time, but I think we can all agree its roots are in this nation’s racist past. Poverty often begets poverty, the uneducated beget the uneducated, and so on. I do not know how to definitively solve this problem and break the cycle, but ending affirmative action will most certainly not help it. At the very least, completely ending the program is not the answer. I do believe, however, there may be some reforms to improve it. The first one that always comes to mind is the one I first heard from Cenk Uygur. Cenk’s idea is that for (at least) educational institutions, change affirmative action from mandating certain numbers of racial minorities to certain numbers of the poor or those of low socio-economic statuses. Doing so will still help provide equality of opportunity amongst all people, it would help bring the aforementioned families that have known nothing but poverty out of that cycle, and perhaps most of all still encompass racial minorities as so many of them still tragically live in poverty. Of course, there may come a day where this form of affirmative action no longer encompasses racial minorities because they no longer suffer from poverty, unemployment, lack of education, or other hardships, but when that day does come we can finally begin to seriously ask ourselves as a society if racism still exists, and if the need for what is the current form of affirmative action would be necessary for the purposes it was created.
Plus, if you want to think even longer-term, consider this; the number one way society segregates and discriminates against people they believe to be inferior is to make them poor and force them into poverty often by institutionalized means. This new form of affirmative action could help prevent future forms of discrimination by helping pull up any minority that, for whatever reason, has been pushed down by society.
On top of all that, State Representative Larry Glenn pointed out that many contracts and projects sent to Oklahoma to create jobs, invest in infrastructure, and generally build Oklahoma from Washington mandate that we have some state affirmative action program. By abolishing it, Oklahoma could lose out on millions of dollars in federal programs and countless jobs.
So in the end, while I acknowledge it’s not the best program, outright banning affirmative action is not the answer.
State Question 762: Remove the governor from the parole process for non-violent offenses
This measure amends Section 10 of Article 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution. It changes current law, decreasing the power and authority of the Governor by removing the Governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses. It enlarges the power and authority of the Pardon and Parole Board by authorizing that Board, in place of the Governor, to grant parole to persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses.
The Legislature defines what offenses are nonviolent offenses and the Legislature may change that definition.
The measure authorizes the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend to the Governor, but not to itself grant, parole for persons convicted of certain offenses, specifically those offenses identified by law as crimes for which persons are required to serve not less than eighty-five percent of their sentence prior to being considered for parole and those designated by the Legislature as exceptions to nonviolent offenses. For those offenses for which persons are required to serve a minimum mandatory period of confinement prior to being eligible to be considered for parole, the Pardon and Parole Board may not recommend parole until that period of confinement has been served.
My vote: Yes
Commentary: I didn’t have to think about this one too long or hard. Media stories I read covering it only confused me. In the end of the day, all of America, perhaps most of all Oklahoma, is suffering from one major problem in its prison system; too many non-violent offenders are being locked up for sentences far too long given the crime committed. Obviously, a majority of these are drug-related (and also why I do not support the war on drugs, because guess what? Drugs are winning). Even outside of drug-related offenses, though, non-violent offenders make up huge portions of our prison population. This is largely driven by the entire concept of for-profit prison systems. When you make prisons that are for-profit, the company in question has a profit incentive for there to be more prisoners in society. This is why converting a public sector service into one of the private is usually a bad idea; it moves serving the public down to a secondary interest, if even that, and puts profits and money-making capability above it. In prisons, no matter how you look at it, there are people in society that now cheer when we have more prisoners, higher incarceration rates, and more repeat offenders, for which no one should be cheering.
What does all of this have to do with the state question, you might ask? When you have the governor as part of the parole process it politicizes it. Most governors, particularly those seeking a second term as Fallin will, hesitate to do anything to jeopardize that. Should the governor okay a prisoner’s parole, and that prisoner turns around and commits an extremely heinous crime, the governor gets blamed. Because of this, Governor Fallin has personally denied over half of all possible non-violent prisoners parole who became eligible for it. This keeps our prisons crowded with non-violent offenders, most of whom are in jail for minor drug offenses that I honestly don’t think a majority of Oklahomans really care about, and thus, costs the state significantly more money. On top of that, Oklahoma is the only state left in America that actually does involve the governor in the parole process of non-violent offenders. So once again, Oklahoma is in the dust trail of history as the rest of the country speeds onward (does cock fighting, tattoos, and eventually gay marriage I’m sure, all sound familiar?). Let’s try and catch up again by voting yes on this proposition.
Stat Question 764: $300 million bonding authority in case of water and sewage treatment default
This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds a new Section 39A to Article 10. It would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds. Any bonds issued would be used to provide a reserve fund for the Board. The fund would be a reserve fund for certain water resource and sewage treatment funding programs. The fund could only be used to pay other bonds and obligations for the funding programs. The bonds could only be issued after other monies and sources are used for repayment. The bonds would be general obligation bonds. Not more than Three Hundred Million Dollars worth of bonds could be issued. The Legislature would provide the monies to pay for the bonds. The Legislature would provide for methods for issuing the bonds. The Legislature would provide for how the fund is administered.
My vote: Yes
Commentary: This one seemed fairly straight forward to me. Water is very possibly the most important resource to any civilization, so if you’re going to justify any form of public spending waterworks would be it, especially here in Oklahoma with our merciless summers, and global warming only… warming up (I tried to resist the pun, but it bested me…). To be fair though, bond issues tend to confuse me a little bit, and I do generally favor them as more often than not they help develop and better the community.
State Question 765: Elimination of the Oklahoma Human Services Commission (DHS)
The measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It abolishes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. These entities were created under different names by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Article 25 of the Oklahoma Constitution and given duties and responsibilities related to the care of the aged and needy. The measure repeals these sections of the Constitution and consequently, removes the power of the Commission of Human Services to establish policy and adopt rules and regulations. Under the measure, the Legislature and the people by initiative petition retain the power to adopt legislation for these purposes.
The measure adds a provision to the Constitution authorizing the Legislature to create a department or departments to administer and carry out laws to provide for the care of the aged and the needy. The measure also authorizes the Legislature to enact laws requiring the newly-created department or departments to perform other duties.
My vote: No
Commentary: If you’re anything like me, you read this question and were like “wait… what?” This question is crazy. Like, pull-my-hair-out-and-bang-my-head-on-the-desk-what-the-fuck-is-going-on crazy. Long story short, the current state administration is trying to consolidate as many state agencies as they can in some attempt to save a few pennies here and there. DHS is one such agency they wish to consolidate, especially given recent legal troubles that have drawn into question how well the agency is managed. The problem is that DHS is part of the Oklahoma state constitution. Therefore, an amendment, approved by the people in the form of this state question, will have to be passed to reform the agency. Legislation was passed earlier this year, HB 3137, to change the Director of DHS to a Governor-appointed position, and divide the committee up into several sub-committees with five members, each also appointed by the Governor. For this bill to go into effect, this amendment abolishing the currently established DHS would have to be passed. Here’s the problem though; this amendment does not actually recreate DHS, but nor does the initial legislation require the abolishment of the department. So, why does this amendment use the “abolishment” language so strongly? Why does it not include language that informs voters the agency will be recreated? Why does this measure not in and of itself recreate the agency? There are so many questions with this measure that it leaves me feeling as if I, along with all Oklahoma voters, are missing something very important that could lead us to having the wool pulled over our eyes. It doesn’t help this unsettling feeling of mine that the Speaker of the state House asked the Attorney General to change the language to reflect these very important points, but the Attorney General refused. To put it simply; something don’t smell right about this question. Something don’t smell right at all. I plan to vote no on it if only because the state clearly doesn’t have their shit together on this question.
State Question 766: Exempt intangible property from property taxes
This measure amends Section 6A of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. At present that section exempts some intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation. This measure would exempt all intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation.
An ad valorem property tax is a tax imposed upon the value of property.
Intangible Personal Property is property whose value is not derived from its physical attributes, but rather from what it represents or evidences.
Intangible Personal Property which is still currently taxed but would not be taxed if the measure is adopted, includes items such as:
- patents, inventions, formulas, designs, and trade secrets;
- licenses, franchise, and contracts;
- land leases, mineral interests, and insurance policies;
- custom computer software; and
- trademarks, trade names and brand names.
If adopted, the measure would apply to property taxation starting with the tax year that begins on January 1, 2013.
My vote: No
Commentary: For the most part see my response to state question 758. This is just another way state Republicans are trying to kill off modern democracy by starving it of revenue. People always love tax cuts because we’re short-sighted and simple-minded, especially here in Oklahoma, and we all too often fail to realize its long-term effects. Already the OEA (Oklahoma Educators Association) has determined that this one measure alone could cause over $32 million in cuts to education, which has only been cut over and over again here in Oklahoma ($300 million over the past three years) to the point where we’re in the bottom two states in America for public education spending. On top of that, before I digress into my education rant, allow me to ask… philosophically speaking, why can’t we tax these things? I mean, within the context of taxation in general, what’s wrong with taxing the listed forms of intangible property? I somehow doubt that these taxes would be levied on people who are unable to afford them; just look at the list. Who holds most of our state’s trademarks, patents, land leases, mineral interests, and so on? Why, corporations of course, and what do you think has been sponsoring this exact law?
So allow me to finish this state question with a tirade that always angers me; why are we cutting education? The primary arguments conservatives make is that we need to eliminate wasteful government spending. Since when is education “wasteful?” I mean, surely, according to conservative logic, we increased spending somewhere on something on which we should not have spent money. This usually consists of “pork” spending on overly priced projects that the state funds or tax cuts that almost always benefit the wealthy disproportionately to the poor. So, given that, when it comes time to cut “wasteful” government spending, why do we always go for education first? Why not give up the tax cuts being continually levied on both the Oklahoman and American people? Why not give up the fancy new fighter jet that will never be flown, or the hundreds of bronze statues erected for “beautification?” Or maybe, just maybe, give up corporate subsidies, such as the ones given to the oil industry to drill for oil? Isn’t that like giving Nike a subsidy to make sneakers? No, of course not; we have to go for education first. Why? Well, if people are educated, they may actually realize this giant scheme being pulled on them by both federal and state governments, and the state can’t have that…
Anywho, that’s about it for this election’s state questions. If you’d like more insight, I’d highly suggest Dr. Kurt Hochenauer’s Okie Funk blog, one of the most noteworthy progressive blogs in Oklahoma. He released his own take on the state questions this week too, and at the exact same time I was finishing up my research on them for this article. Dr. Hochenauer is a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, whereat I actually took his class on blogging and new media years ago. To be honest, at the time I never thought I’d apply so much of what I learned in his class to my every day life, yet here I am!
Good luck out there.