After having to deal with eleven State Questions the last time around, it's almost a relief to be confronted by a mere six this fall. And some of them are even non-controversial! Who knew? Here's the list for next month's general election.

SQ 758:

Ballot text:
This measure amends the State Constitution. It amends Section 8B of Article 10.

The measure deals with real property taxes also called ad valorem taxes. These taxes are based on several factors. One factor is the fair cash value of the property.

The measure changes the limits on increases in fair cash value. Now, increases are limited to 5% of fair cash value in any taxable year.

The measure changes the cap on increases to 3% for some property. The 3% cap would apply to homestead exempted property. The cap would also apply to agricultural land.

The measure also removes obsolete language.

When this was up before the Legislature in 2008, I said something to the effect that while I never met a tax cut I didn't like, there wasn't that much to love in this one: I figured it as a buck-ninety per month. My house having appreciated by maybe $2 since then, I have no reason to think I'm going to get a whole lot of pocket money out of this matter. Your millage, of course, may vary. I'm voting Yes because it's a lower ceiling on a tax increase, which is close to, if not quite as good as, a tax cut; but I'm not going to go ballistic if it should fail.

SQ 759:

Ballot text:
This measure adds a new section to the State Constitution. It adds Section 36 to Article II.

The measure deals with three areas of government action. These areas are employment, education and contracting.

In these areas, the measure does not allow affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs give preferred treatment based on race, color or gender. They also give preferred treatment based on ethnicity or national origin. Discrimination on these bases is also not permitted.

The measure permits affirmative action in three instances. 1. When gender is a bonafide qualification, it is allowed. 2. Existing court orders and consent decrees that require preferred treatment will continue and can be followed. 3. Affirmative action is allowed when needed to keep or obtain federal funds.

The measure applies to the State and its agencies. It applies to counties, cities and towns. It applies to school districts. It applies to other State subdivisions.

The measure applies only to actions taken after its approval by the people.

I expect this will be characterized as a rollback to Klan days, and the spectre of old Jim Crow will be invoked. Since the measure states up front that existing court orders and consent decrees are in no wise being abrogated, this should be viewed as merely a line in the sand. One thing I'd like to see here, though, isn't here: a prohibition on rolling back existing non-discrimination policies. And I suspect we're not going to get that until we're rid of Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-OKC), who earlier this year pitched a hissy fit about local non-discrimination policies with LGBT inclusion, and we're stuck with him through 2014. (By coincidence, this is the same Mike Reynolds who has been pushing for a lower cap on property-tax increases.) Still, one step at a time. I'll give this a Yes, but not a particularly enthusiastic one.

SQ 762:

Ballot text:
This measure amends Section 10 of Article 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution. It changes current law, decreasing the power and authority of the Governor by removing the Governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses. It enlarges the power and authority of the Pardon and Parole Board by authorizing that Board, in place of the Governor, to grant parole to persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses.

The Legislature defines what offenses are nonviolent offenses and the Legislature may change that definition.

The measure authorizes the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend to the Governor, but not to itself grant, parole for persons convicted of certain offenses, specifically those offenses identified by law as crimes for which persons are required to serve not less than eighty-five percent of their sentence prior to being considered for parole and those designated by the Legislature as exceptions to nonviolent offenses. For those offenses for which persons are required to serve a minimum mandatory period of confinement prior to being eligible to be considered for parole, the Pardon and Parole Board may not recommend parole until that period of confinement has been served.

This takes the Governor out of the loop, so to speak, with regard to parole for non-violent offenders, presumably with the intent of streamlining the parole process. Governor Fallin, for her part, sees this as just fine, and I think she's probably right. Yes from me.

SQ 764:

Ballot text:
This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds a new Section 39A to Article 10. It would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds. Any bonds issued would be used to provide a reserve fund for the Board. The fund would be a reserve fund for certain water resource and sewage treatment funding programs. The fund could only be used to pay other bonds and obligations for the funding programs. The bonds could only be issued after other monies and sources are used for repayment. The bonds would be general obligation bonds. Not more than Three Hundred Million Dollars worth of bonds could be issued. The Legislature would provide the monies to pay for the bonds. The Legislature would provide for methods for issuing the bonds. The Legislature would provide for how the fund is administered.

This item is essentially a response to the most recent update to the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, which projects that the state will be unable to meet projected water demands in, or before, 2060. This question would authorize the OWRB to create an emergency fund should (1) a municipality or water district default on bond repayment and (2) existing OWRB funding options are exhausted. Total number of times this has happened since the OWRB was authorized to backstop bonds in 1985: zero. Still, just because it's never happened doesn't mean it never will, and I favor rainy-day funds on general principle. I vote Yes.

SQ 765:

Ballot text:
The measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It abolishes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. These entities were created under different names by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Article 25 of the Oklahoma Constitution and given duties and responsibilities related to the care of the aged and needy. The measure repeals these sections of the Constitution and consequently, removes the power of the Commission of Human Services to establish policy and adopt rules and regulations. Under the measure, the Legislature and the people by initiative petition retain the power to adopt legislation for these purposes.

The measure adds a provision to the Constitution authorizing the Legislature to create a department or departments to administer and carry out laws to provide for the care of the aged and the needy. The measure also authorizes the Legislature to enact laws requiring the newly-created department or departments to perform other duties.

The number of state residents actually happy with DHS is somewhere between few and none. This measure kicks the existing management, the nine-member Commission, to the curb, which is good; however, it doesn't address any of the structural issues with how DHS services are provided they're obviously still going to be provided somehow regardless of what happens to this question which is not so good. If the Legislature had exercised the sort of oversight they're supposed to have been exercising all along, DHS wouldn't be such a shambles today. Until they start doing their job, I'm not going to approve their fits of pique. This one gets a solid No.

SQ 766:

Ballot text:
This measure amends Section 6A of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. At present that section exempts some intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation. This measure would exempt all intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation.

An ad valorem property tax is a tax imposed upon the value of property.

Intangible Personal Property is property whose value is not derived from its physical attributes, but rather from what it represents or evidences.

Intangible Personal Property which is still currently taxed but would not be taxed if the measure is adopted, includes items such as:
  • patents, inventions, formulas, designs, and trade secrets;
  • licenses, franchise, and contracts;
  • land leases, mineral interests, and insurance policies;
  • custom computer software; and
  • trademarks, trade names and brand names.
If adopted, the measure would apply to property taxation starting with the tax year that begins on January 1, 2013.

The idea of taxing such property in the first place implies that there's a reasonably reliable method of assessing its value. As anyone who's ever bought anything from anyone and paid X amount of dollars for "goodwill" knows, there isn't any such thing. Maybe you can call up Mutual of Omaha and ask them how much your whole-life policy is worth, but inventions tend to be worth either a fortune or nothing, and there's no way to tell until it's produced, or failed to produce, a fortune, and by then you're either taxed already on that fortune or you're deducting the loss. This is not good tax law: forty states don't even attempt this sort of thing. We should stop doing something we manifestly can't do. Consider this a fairly firm Yes.

Missing numbers:

SQ 760: "Creates new standards for drawing legislative and congressional districts within Oklahoma." An initiative promoted by Sen. Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequah), it did not garner enough signatures.

SQ 761: "Would define 'person' under the Constitution as any human being from the beginning of the biological development to natural death." An initiative promoted by Daniel Skirbitz, head of the group Personhood Oklahoma, it was rejected by the state Supreme Court for conflict with Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey.

SQ 763: "Would permit counties with more than 50,000 residents to have the option of holding an election that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores." An initiative promoted by Brian Howe, head of the group Oklahomans for Modern Laws. After the measure survived a legal challenge, proponents opted to withdraw it and refile next year, when presumably they will have more time to gather signatures.

Five up, one down. (I went for eight up, three down in 2010.) I am, of course, only one voter.

Previous State Question coverage: 2010, 2008, 2006, 2004, and 2002.

The Vent

  8 October 2012

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 Copyright © 2012 by Charles G. Hill