Voters asked to reject state questions 800, 801

Sallisaw Schools Superintendent Jeremy Jackson is encouraging Sallisaw patrons to vote “no” on two State Questions appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot in the 2018 General Election.

Jackson said State Question 800 and State Question 801would actually endanger dedicated funding for schools across the state.

State Question 800 is a proposed constitutional amendment to create a new reserve fund in the state budget to collect an increasing percentage of collections from the gross production tax (GPT), according to information released by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA)

“This off-the-top set-aside to the new Oklahoma VisionFund would begin July 1, 2020,” the OSSBA has said.

Beginning on that date, 5 percent of the collections from the GPT on oil and gas would be deposited into a trust fund, the Oklahoma Vision Fund. The percentage would increase by .2 percent every year until it reaches 100 percent.

That money could then be invested by the state treasurer and after July 1, 2020, 4 percent of the fund's principal will be deposited each year into the state's General Revenue Fund.

What is of concern to Jackson and the OSSBA is schools now receive about 10 percent of all gross production revenue in dedicated funding outside of the appropriations process. According to the OSSBA, the annual diversion of GPT collections will erode the level of dedicated funding and take millions of dollars in potential funding for schools off the table every year.

When the GPT collections reach the point where all collections are directed to the special fund, it would eventually eliminate GPT as a dedicated revenue source for schools. Also, there is no limit on how much the fund can hold in reserve.

Other concerns are that the proposed amendment has no mechanism for the legislature to tap into the fund if there is a revenue shortfall or other emergency, and deposits would be made to the fund every year even when state revenues are below collections.

Opponents say changes to the state Constitution to address any issues in the amendment would be difficult to undo and would require another statewide vote. 

State Question 801 would also amend the state Constitution which currently prohibits the use of school district building funds for most recurring operational costs like teacher pay.

Approval of the question would give school districts more discretion in spending existing building fund revenue, but it would not create any new revenue for schools, according to the OSSBA. Voters in every school district have already increased general operations and building fund property taxes to the maximum 44 total mills allowed under state law.

Of concern to the OSSBA is the shifting of responsibility of funding teacher pay from state to local districts, particularly at a time when local funding is already comprising an increasing share of school budgets.

The change could also open up building fund money for employee salary negotiations, which could end up with some districts having less money available to meet capital needs, and school districts don't have excess building fund money going unused.

The OSSBA says the change won't create an increase in the amount of money available to schools, adding that Oklahoma is one of only four states that doesn't have state-dedicated funding for buildings so districts are heavily reliant on local funds for infrastructure maintenance and improvements.

Jackson said he attended a recent statewide meeting and found no one who was in favor of these two state questions. He encouraged Sallisaw School District patrons to vote “no.”

Sequoyah County Times

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