POSTED ON OCTOBER 31, 2012:
Down to the Wire
Free advice on the big six
s a political junkie, a certain melancholy often sets in just before a big election.
The mano y mano excitement of the debates is over. The attack ads are starting to sound way too similar. The anticipation -- who'll win, who'll lose -- will be replaced by ... what?
I'm not quite sure how the candidates endure it. It's an almost around-the-clock frenzy from now until the polls close. Insane, really.
As a journalist and pundit, I can at least escape in the knowledge that I'll have plenty of material to fill my columns in the days ahead, no matter the outcome.
Before you head off to perform your civic duty, and before we turn the page on the 2012 campaign season, I would like to offer some advice -- at no extra charge -- on the six state questions:
First, you should know that all of the proposed constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the state Legislature -- none by citizens circulating an initiative petition.
That should give you pause immediately.
With an air of faux high morality, our elected leaders bleat endlessly about how government shouldn't use public policy to pick "winners and losers." Yet that exactly what they do with almost every vote.
So you need to ask yourself this question: What are these yahoos up to by proposing these state questions? Who benefits? Who will be hurt?
Here's my take: Five of the six proposed constitutional amendments on next week's ballot stink.
And should be defeated.
Two state questions -- 758 and 766 -- would, if approved, devastate local governments and public schools by further cutting tax revenues.
SQ 758 would lower the annual cap on property taxes from 5 percent to 3 percent. Yes, it would help those on fixed incomes ... but at what cost?
It would put Oklahoma on the same slippery slope as California in the aftermath of Proposition 13. The former Golden State has a $16 billion budget deficit and a crumbling state infrastructure, in part thanks to the ballot measure that took property tax decision-making out of the hands of elected policy-makers.
SQ 766 is a corporatist's wet dream, providing huge tax breaks to major business interests by exempting so-called intangible property -- such as stocks, bonds and investments from their taxable net worth.
Let us pause briefly for a refresher course in Reality 101: There is no free lunch. Roads don't magically appear. Neither do schools. Or prisons. Or firefighters. Or child welfare workers. Or water and sewer lines.
These things cost m-o-n-e-y.
This m-o-n-e-y is generated by paying t-a-x-e-s.
We're all in this t-o-g-e-t-h-e-r.
If you're OK with Oklahoma becoming a Third World backwater, then by all means feel free to approve these measures.
If you give a damn about the kind of state your children and grandchildren will inherit, you'll easily recognize that these are disasters in the making.
The growth in state tax revenues already is shrinking thanks to nearly $1 billion in ill-advised income tax cuts in recent years. Yet the cost of providing essential services continues to rise.
We already have SQ 640 on the books, making it all but impossible to raise taxes, no matter how dire the emergency.
To tie our elected policy-makers hands further would be foolish.
State Question 759 is another infamous case of the Legislature offering a solution in search of a problem. If only lawmakers were as adept at solving real problems ...
This proposal would ban something that doesn't exist: affirmative action quotas in state employment, education and contracting.
So why is this even on the ballot? It's a potentially hot-button, wedge issue designed to increase voter turnout among the wingnuts who actually believe white males are victims of rampant reverse discrimination.
This would send a terrible message to the nation and the world that Oklahoma doesn't give a hoot about equal opportunity.
Worse, it would ban the one thing that actually is required of state agencies: to periodically report to the public how well they're doing in hiring a workforce that reflects Oklahoma's increasingly diverse population.
State Question 764 is another of those proposals that looks good at first, but doesn't stand up to closer scrutiny.
It would create a $300 million bonding authority under the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to help municipalities rebuild, update and expand water and wastewater infrastructure -- the comprehensive statewide water plan estimates $82 billion will be needed over the next 50 years.
The problem is, OWRB would control the money and the projects -- which means the State Chamber and the Oklahoma City powers-that-be would be in charge.
Given how OWRB and OKC handled Sardis Lake, that's more than disconcerting. It evokes fear of a slush fund for the privileged few, helping make the rich richer in Oklahoma City while leaving Oklahoma to wither.
State Question 765 is a classic example of the Legislature offering a knee-jerk reaction to a serious problem -- all to make it appear it is responding thoughtfully to a crisis.
It would eliminate the state Department of Human Services commission and transfer its powers to the governor and the Legislature.
That's hardly a comforting thought. The last thing DHS needs is to be politicized further. What it really needs is to be funded -- fully. It never has been, leaving child welfare workers, for example, with crushing caseloads far beyond professional standards.
Lest you think the Legislature took an o-fer on referenda this year, there is one state question that merits your support: 762.
It would remove the governor from the parole process for non-violent offenders. Gov. Mary Fallin was for it ... before she was against it. Her flip-flop must not cloud the real issue.
Oklahoma is the only state in the union that requires the governor to review all non-violent paroles. That politicizes the process, ends up costing the taxpayers huge sums of money (because worthy parolees are denied early release) and often results in ex-cons not receiving the post-sentence supervision and support that would given them a fighting chance to become successful, productive members of society again.
Five no's, one yes. Voting this way would send a strong message to the Legislature: Do the job you're elected to do. Solve the problems rather than passing the buck to the voters. Quit playing politics with wedge issues. And quit pandering to the 1 percent.
The other 99 percent want an innovative, inclusive, productive Oklahoma that gives all an equal shot at the American dream -- not a banana republic dominated by a handful of plutocrats.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; okobserver.net
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