Oklahoma Governor’s Race To Hinge On Storm Shelters?

safeRoomSignCP_t640If you live in Oklahoma, I hope you enjoy hearing about the school storm shelter issue because it’s shaping up to be the issue for the next year.  Yesterday, State Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) launched an exploratory committee to begin raising funds and examine a possible run for Governor of Oklahoma next year.  Dorman would be running against the popular incumbent, Mary Fallin.  While announcing the committee Dorman said that education is going to be the top issue.  “Visiting with teachers… about the conditions we’re seeing in schools, what we’ve seen Governor Fallin and Superintendent Janet Barresi do to education, I think that has to be one of our most critical issues we’ll look at.”  For the past several months Dorman has been a strong advocate of an initiative petition that would allow the public to vote on issuing up to $500 million in bonds for the construction of storm shelters in Oklahoma schools.  Franchise tax revenues would be used to pay for the bond and the Legislature would be able to appropriate additional funds if the franchise tax revenues were insufficient.  The petition was started after seven children at an elementary school in Moore, OK were killed in a tornado last spring.  Governor Fallin is not supporting the initiative, saying that the funding of shelters in schools is an issue that should be the decision of local school districts. 

Backers of the petition were around 50,000 short of the necessary 160,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot next November.  But, they are challenging the wording of the ballot measure as rewritten by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.  Under Oklahoma law, ballot questions are required to meet certain standards.  Proposed questions are submitted to the Attorney General’s office for review and are, on occasion, rewritten to comply with the requirements of the law.  The AG’s office rewrote the proposed question dealing with storm shelters to emphasize that franchise tax revenues currently flow into the general fund and that approving the measure would mean those funds would be diverted, meaning there would be less available to fund state government.  Supporters of the proposal were upset that the question was rewritten in this manner and claim that the AG changed the language to make it appear as a new tax.  I disagree with that, as the first sentence in the second paragraph of the rewritten question says, “The measure does not provide for new State revenues to pay for the bonds.”  If you wish to read the proposed question in its original or rewritten form the Secretary of State’s website has a document containing all correspondence here

As I am writing this, both sides are before the Oklahoma State Supreme Court making their argument as to why the question as rewritten by the AG should or should not be thrown out.  If it is thrown out there will then be the question of whether or not a new time period in which to collect signatures will be given by the court.  If the court upholds the rewritten question, Rep. Dorman has already stated that he will introduce a House joint resolution in the Legislature to put the issue before the voters.  Should that happen the vote will be interesting to watch.  Will the legislators pass the buck to the people or will they vote down the resolution and not allow the fiscally irresponsible plan to proceed?  In any event, Dorman will be making this an issue.  If it ends up on the ballot it will likely be the main issue on which he campaigns, especially since Governor Fallin does not support it.  But so far, it does not appear a majority of Oklahoma support passage of the measure.  When the petition falls 50,000 votes shy of the required number that does not bode well for its future.  Or for Dorman.

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4 comments to Oklahoma Governor’s Race To Hinge On Storm Shelters?

  • LD Jackson

    I am somewhat torn on the issue of the storm shelters. I agree that it would be a good idea for schools to have them. I suspect the residents of Moore, as well as other cities who have been victims of a tornado strike, would probably concur. I’m just not sure it is a good excuse to throw fiscal responsibility out of the window. Thus, I would tend to agree with Governor Fallin. This is truly a local issue, not something that should be forced by the state legislature. It would seem that most Oklahomans agree.

    • Storm shelters in schools is definitely a good idea, but this is the wrong way to do it. I will go out on a limb and predict that if this issue remains alive into next year’s election cycle, there will be those who say anyone opposed to it wants children to die.

  • Joseph

    This is so irritating! They move out of schools that were built to be storm shelters and made to last a century, because of the “cost” of asbestos removal. Then they move into schools built out of tin that will last 30 years at best, only to realize “we have to build storm shelters now”. How many millions or billions is that going to cost? I am seriously tired of government waste and lack of foresight.

    • And it seems that whenever a problem crops up somewhere there will always be someone in the government who thinks the best solution is just to throw millions of dollars at it and the problem will go away.