Voters to decide whether to create special oil and gas tax fund

A state question calling for the creation of another reserve fund in Oklahoma to finance education has left a split among groups and associations that will be affected by it.

State Question 800 would divert 5 percent of gross production tax collections to the Oklahoma Vision Fund starting July 1, 2020. Voters will decide Tuesday if they want to increase the percentage of funds diverted by .2 percent every year with no cap on the ultimate percentage to be diverted.

Supporters contend it will smooth Oklahoma’s boom-and-bust budget cycles. But even the Oklahoma State School Boards Association opposes it, claiming it could endanger an important source of dedicated revenue for Oklahoma schools.

“Simply put, this state question is vague, filled with unknowns and could erode millions of dollars in dedicated funding for public schools,” OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said in a message to education leaders across the state.

His organization announced its opposition last month, stating, “We recognize and appreciate the legislature’s intent to stabilize state finances and create a recurring income stream that is not subject to the volatility of one industry. However, we do not believe an endowment fund, where the principal cannot be accessed during a state crisis, is the correct approach.”

Supporters include former Oklahoma Democratic congressman Dan Boren.

“The energy sector has a rich history in Oklahoma of creating jobs and also contributing to our state’s budget. The oil and gas industry is certainly an asset to our economy but as a state we must be prepared for times when commodity prices are low,” he wrote over the weekend in the Muskogee Daily Phoenix.

Boren calls it a “simple bipartisan measure” to send part of existing oil and gas tax revenue into the fund to guarantee funding for government services.

If this state question had been passed in 1990, during the last teacher walkout, we would have prevented the budget crunch that we saw this year and guaranteed a $2,500 raise for every teacher in our state without raising taxes or cutting government services,” he said.

The Stillwater News Press came out recently against the state question.

“If SQ 800 is approved by voters, the OVF will grow over time, but the legislature will be unable to skip deposits into the fund, or access the principal to fund critical services, during tight economic cycles. Gov. Mary Fallin made some of these same points when she vetoed House Bill 1401 in May of this year. SQ 800 and HB 1401 are almost identical in design and intent,” stated the paper in an editorial.

Editorial writers with the Press expressed concerns about embedding another reserve fund into the state constitution. Instead of making a special fund, the paper urged legislators to resolve funding issues.

” The Rainy Day Fund is already dictated by the constitution and clearly has some deficiencies, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. The OVF is a complex proposal and there are bound to be unintended consequences with it. Once in the constitution, a vote of the people will be required to fix those problem.”