The Oklahoma Public Employees Association joined representatives from various groups Thursday at a Capitol press conference in opposing State Question 744.
OPEA is a part of the Oklahoma Coalition, a group of state associations, organizations and individuals dedicated to moving Oklahoma forward together. SQ 744 is a common education initiative that would cost Oklahoma taxpayers between $850 and $930 million in its first year of implementation, with no identified way to pay for the mandate.
“We are not opposed to improving education, but rather opposed to pitting different needs of the state against one another,” said Coalition Campaign Manager Jeff Wilson. “The simple fact is, if SQ 744 becomes the law of the land, Oklahoma’s families, businesses, people and children will suffer.”
OPEA was joined at the press conference by representatives of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, as well as the State Chamber.
“This year is a tough year for the state budget and state employees,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “If state government were to take an extra $850 million out of the budget, the effects would be devastating to Oklahomans—including children.
“Just as one example, consider how it would increase the burden on our caseworkers working with the thousands of children in our Foster Care program. It would make families less safe, as it would likely mean cuts among corrections officers and state troopers. It would undoubtedly lead to cuts in heath care and mental health services,” Zearley added.
Fred Morgan, President of the State Chamber, said: “Our organization has long been a supporter of common, higher and career education. We know that we need a well-educated work force for companies to succeed in the state. But SQ 744 goes about this in the wrong way.”
Morgan says the State Chamber also believes the initiative would actually hurt, not improve education. In addition, he says it would be a job killer and would hamper efforts to encourage companies to expand or bring jobs to the state.
Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Mike Spradling echoed those concerns. “We can’t afford to pass a ballot issue that has the potential to dramatically raise property taxes to a level that makes it impossible to keep the family farm up and running. It is simply a flawed concept. I think we can all agree that it is ridiculous for Oklahoma to tie its per-pupil spending to what is needed in cities like Dallas or Houston where the cost of living is much higher,” Spradling said.
The Oklahoma Coalition says it plans an aggressive media campaign to educate all Oklahomans about the dangers of passing SQ 744. They encouraged voters to become familiar with the initiative, and to vote “NO” on SQ 744 in November.