Oklahoma reaction to TABOR mixed as possibility raised there

OKLAHOMA CITY — Colorado’s vote to suspend its taxpayer bill of rights for five years drew a mixed reaction Wednesday in Oklahoma, where a similar plan is the subject of an initiative petition drive.

”We hope the lessons of Colorado’s failed budget experiment will send up a bright red flag to all Oklahomans as they face signature collectors peddling TABOR outside grocery stores and football stadiums this fall,” said David Blatt of Community Action Project, a Tulsa-based anti-poverty group.

”Given the devastating cuts forced by TABOR in Colorado, we should be asking State Question 726 supporters which public services they believe are expendable in Oklahoma: education or health care or corrections or roads and bridges?”

In voting 52 percent to 48 percent to suspend TABOR for five years, Colorado voters decided to give up $3.7 billion in tax cuts so those funds could be used to shore up education and health care, which had suffered revenue reductions after the 2001 recession.

”It’s something that at first glance may look good, but Colorado voters are obviously telling us they want to revisit it,” said veteran Sen. Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore. ”That may mean Oklahomans ought to be very slow before we put something like this in our Constitution.”

Mark Nichols, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, which supports the initiative petition to enact TABOR in Oklahoma, said the Colorado vote did not mean voters in that state do not like tax rebates.

”It is that they have identified some key needs for the state and are willing to trust the legislators over the next five years to solve these challenges,” Nichols said.

Republican Gov. Bill Owens, a former TABOR supporter, teamed with Democrats in pushing for the TABOR rollback, angering some conservatives in his party.

Oklahomans for Action has been formed to spearhead the drive for TABOR in Oklahoma and it also is backed by several out-of-state groups, including Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Limited Government and FreedomWorks.

Rick Carpenter, who heads Oklahomans for Action, said he didn’t think the Colorado development ”will have much impact. I looked around for any reaction today and I didn’t find much.

”I think the voters in Colorado said they wanted to fix TABOR, not get rid of it. I don’t think it was a rebuke of TABOR by any means.”

Carpenter said petition circulators had collected about 70,000 ”confirmed signatures and more than that are not confirmed.”

The initiative petition was filed Sept. 19 and circulators have 90 days to collected 219,564 signatures of registered voters. ”We are on track to hit the target with no problem,” Carpenter said.

Supporters say Oklahoma’s version of TABOR contains safeguards to protect against the experience with the plan in Colorado.

But Blatt argues those problems are not really solved. He says if SQ 726 is enacted, lawmakers could not pass an ordinary supplemental appropriation to deal, for example, with budget shortfalls such as the one now facing the state prison system.

The proposed constitutional amendment limits spending increases to population growth and inflation.

Opponents argue that could starve education, health care and roads if the state experiences extended economic downturns.