Ag Groups Line Up in Opposition to State Question 744Thu, 22 Jul 2010 6:37:07 CDT
Farm groups and agribusiness interests held a media event with the One Oklahoma Coalition, the group working to defeat State Question 744, in Enid today to detail the devastating consequences State Question 744 would likely have on rural Oklahoma and agricultural industries. We have an audio overview- with interviews from the event courtesy of J Curtis Huckleberry of RON Ag Affiiliate KGWA Radio in Enid- click on the Listen Bar at the bottom of this story for that special audio report.
Mike Spradling, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau opened the comments after background was given on the question saying, "There are two reasons why ag producers in Oklahoma should vigorously oppose State Question 744. One, it will likely lead to massive increases in property taxes the lion's share of which will be paid by rural Oklahoma. Second, it will likely lead to the elimination of ag sales tax exemption.
"We are still an agricultural state, and the property tax increases that 744 will likely force will disproportionately hurt rural Oklahoma and rural Oklahoma's economy," said Spradling.
Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers and Ranchers, also former school administrator agreed saying, "As a former school administrator, I understand the concerns we have with funding education. However, a $1 billion annual government spending mandate that is saddled on the backs of farms and ranches across this state and at the expense of all other areas of state government is wasteful and a terrible way to try and move this state forward."
Jeff Wilson, campaign manager to the One Oklahoma Coalition, provided background on a state house budget committee hearing last fall, which was convened to estimate the financial impact of SQ 744. At the hearing, testimony was provided on what the impact of an across-the-board 20 percent budget cut to all areas of state government, outside of common education, would be.
These draconian cuts were anticipated as the most likely outcome state lawmakers would have to pursue in order to pay for the estimated $1 billion increase in spending that would be required under SQ 744.
Because the blank check provided by SQ 744 does not identify a funding mechanism to pay for the increased spending, state lawmakers would likely have to increase income or sales taxes, possibly as high as 40 percent, or implement budget cuts to other agencies of at least 20 percent across-the-board.
Discussing the anticipated affects of the SQ 744 on rural healthcare, Dr. Barry Pollard an ag producer, agribusiness owner and general surgeon talked about the impact to the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority of a 20 percent cut. He explained state house budget staff estimated it would be equivalent to $196 million in state dollars plus another $343 million in federal matching dollars for a total of $539 million reduction in state health dollars. "We are talking about dramatic reductions to Medicaid services for seniors and all Oklahomans who depend upon SoonerCare," said Pollard. "We already have one of the worst ratios in the nation in number of physicians serving our rural communities. Legislation that has been advanced to help recruit physicians to settle in rural communities would be wiped out," said Pollard.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a traditionally center-left leaning think tank, released new numbers for the impact of SQ 744. According to the institute, spending on common education would have to increase by nearly $1.7 billion over the measure's three-year phase-in period. OK Policy further stated given the state must also replace more than $1 billion in non-recurring revenue in its base budget, passage of SQ 744 would require deep spending cuts to the rest of state government, substantial tax increases or both.
Wilson with the One Oklahoma Coalition group concluded the media briefing with a question he contends that voters need to think about. "If you do not raise taxes or cut government services where will the funding come from? It's a simple question that voters should demand a straightforward answer from those pushing for SQ 744," said Wilson.
For more information on the One Oklahoma Coalition- you can visit their website by clicking here.
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