Court OKs school tax petition

Court OKs school tax petition

OKLAHOMA CITY — A 1-percent sales tax increase petition that could raise $868 million for Oklahoma education can move forward, after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last week it does not violate the state’s constitution.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices rejected a claim by a conservative think tank opposed to higher taxes that the initiative petition on the tax combines multiple subjects into one single vote.

The suit was brought by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ Impact group, saying the initiative petition to raise sales tax rates violated Oklahoma’s constitutional ban on petition covering multiple subjects.

OCPA Impact’s CEO Dave Bond said he was disappointed in the decision, but vowed to continue to fight the tax. The initiative was proposed under the leadership of University of Oklahoma President David Boren.

“In the coming months we will continue, and actually increase, our efforts to prevent the Boren tax increase,” Bond said. “We want to continue making sure all Oklahomans across the state understand that the Boren proposal would force them to pay the highest sales tax burden in the country, and also that nearly half of the money from the tax increase would never make it to teachers.”

Stand for Oklahoma Children is a group that was formed to support the sales tax proposal. Its Executive Director Amber England said the group was pleased with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are delighted that the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of sending the initiative petition forward. Oklahomans deserve the opportunity to solve the state’s education funding crisis by voting to pass this plan,” England said.

“We will begin immediately with the signature collection process and already have the staff and resources in place to get this measure on the ballot. In light of the current budget crisis, time is of the essence. This is the only plan on the table to keep us from falling to dead last in the nation for education funding and teacher pay.”

In order to be able to send the question to a state election, petitioners need to gather 123,725 signatures to get the issue on the November ballot.

The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Oklahoma Education Association also voiced support for the sales tax proposal in a joint statement.

“Oklahomans understand that the state’s deepening teacher shortage crisis is bad for students and will continue to worsen without bold action,” the groups said in a statement. “Our state’s citizens deserve the opportunity to help close the education investment gap and send the message that Oklahoma’s students are worth the same level of investment our neighboring states make in students.”