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This article originally appeared in Budget & Tax News
Taxpayer advocates in Oklahoma started the new year by announcing they had gathered more than 300,000 signatures to put the Stop Over Spending (SOS) initiative on the November ballot, some 80,000 more signatures than were needed.
The SOS initiative is the proposed Oklahoma Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment. The secretary of state must certify the signatures, and legal challenges are expected as soon as that process is completed. In the meantime, opponents of SOS are attacking the initiative.
The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) states on its Web site (http://www.okea.org) that Oklahoma legislators are already bound by "comprehensive tax and spending limits." The 12 percent limit--which the OEA refers to as "comprehensive"--allows state government spending to double every six years.
Growth Outstrips Economy
"The OEA's claim that state government has 'grown in line with the state's economy' simply is not accurate," said Rick Carpenter, president of Oklahomans in Action, which supports the SOS initiative. "In 2001, [state] government grew at almost 10 percent. That same year the economy grew by only 4 percent. You cannot allow government to grow at two or three times the rate of the economy."
According to Brandon Dutcher, vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs, a study commissioned by his organization and Americans for Prosperity found, "if a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment had been in place in Oklahoma between 1991 and 2005, we would have filled up the emergency and budget stabilization funds and still would have given $581 million back to the taxpayers of Oklahoma."
SOS opponents claim the initiative, with its formula tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), will cause shortfalls in funding because the prices of goods and services purchased by the government rise faster than the CPI. Organizations such as OEA and Community Action Project (CAP) of Tulsa County claim the result will be declining government services and neglected infrastructure. They cite Colorado, which instituted a TABOR in 1992. Colorado voters last year approved a referendum to temporarily suspend the TABOR limits.
TABOR Falsely Blamed
"Higher Education," according to OEA's Web site, "has fallen from 19% of the Colorado budget in 1992 to just 11% in 2004. Meanwhile, Medicaid and Corrections, which are subject to statutory mandates, have consumed a growing share."
Proponents of Colorado's TABOR argue it gets blamed for problems actually caused by the state's Amendment 23, which mandates that K-12 education receive yearly budget increases equal to the rate of inflation plus student enrollment plus 1 percent, resulting in higher education being squeezed out in the budget process.
Downturn Was Problem
According to the Cato Institute, the problems in Colorado after the 2000-2001 recession resulted from the state's two major industries--tourism and agriculture--experiencing significant downturns at the same time. The problem was the revenue shortfall, not TABOR spending caps. Colorado did not raise enough revenue to reach the TABOR cap. Without TABOR limits, the state would have needed to make far deeper budget cuts, because the state budget would have been much larger.
OEA claims SOS will cause Oklahoma to "sacrifice its ability to invest in progress."
State Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) disputes that claim. "Evidently OEA's idea of investing in education is [that it is] best done through the courts, as demonstrated by their current lawsuit against the state legislature. This comes after record funding. SOS does not preempt adequate funding; as a matter of fact just the opposite is true. SOS provides for a budget stabilization fund to smooth out the dips during a budget downturn."
SOS supporters say the OEA should favor the initiative because it will force the legislature to make sure education and infrastructure are funded first.
"Education has grown at a smaller rate than the rest of the budget. SOS will be more protective of education as a priority expenditure," said state Sen. James Williamson (R-Tulsa).
Tim Gillespie (email@example.com) is the Oklahoma field coordinator for Freedom Works.