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State Questions 777 and 779

We're continuing our series on the state questions that will appear on the ballot November 8. This week we're looking at State Question 777, referred to as Right to Farm, and State Question 779, a measure that would increase Oklahoma's sales tax by one percent to fund education. 

State Question 777, commonly referred to as Right to Farm, is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment sent to a vote of the people by the Oklahoma Legislature. If passed, it will add Section 38 to Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution, which creates state constitutional rights. The addition would guarantee protection to farmers and ranchers utilizing agricultural technology, livestock procedures and ranching practices.

Passage of SQ 777 would effectively prevent the legislature from passing laws regulating agriculture and livestock practices. Any law attempting to regulate or restrict the agricultural industry would result in a lawsuit and, in the absence of compelling state interest, would be overturned by the courts. 

Supporters of 777 claim that the amendment will benefit farmers and ranchers, large and small, by protecting them from unfair and restrictive laws. Additionally, they claim it will protect consumer choice. 

Opponents of 777 claim the amendment benefits large corporate farms over small family farms and will prohibit the state from passing reasonable regulations over food and water quality, environmental protections, and animal cruelty. 

A vote ?yes? supports amending the state constitution. 

A vote ?no? opposes this proposal to amend the state constitution.  

State Question 779 is an initiated constitutional amendment that would create a limited purpose funding source for public education. It would increase State sales and use taxes by one cent per dollar to raise a projected $615 million per year for education. The measure requires an annual audit of school districts? use of monies. If the audit finds any of the money has been used to supplant or replace other educational funding, the Legislature may not make an appropriation until the amount of replaced funding is returned to the fund. The revenue would be used for teacher raises, higher education, grants, early childhood education and vocational education.  The measure also prohibits school districts use of these funds for increasing superintendents? salaries or adding superintendent positions. If approved, it would take effect July 1st, 2017.

A vote ?yes? is a vote in favor of increasing the sales tax.

A vote ?no? is against the increase in the state sales tax.

Supporters of SQ779 believe the effort is needed because of the teacher shortage crisis in Oklahoma, and Oklahoma teachers have not received a raise in 8 years.  Oklahoma teachers currently rank 48th in pay even though enrollment has climbed by more than 45,000 students in the same time period.  Many school districts are having to go to a four day school week due to the teacher shortage.  

Opponents of SQ779 fear that the legislatures could pass tax cuts in the future that could make SQ779 a way to change the source of education funding rather than increasing it.  Opponents also argue that money can be made available to give raises to teachers though other means.

The Oklahoma Academy?s 2015 Town Hall on Budget Priorities (Access our TH documents here) discussed the ?Boren Proposal,? which was the premise for SQ779. Opponents of the proposal claimed that the proposed one cent sales tax was regressive, impacting low and moderate income families and municipalities the hardest. Additionally, they claimed it would have the unintended result of creating increased competition between the State and municipalities over an already constrained revenue base.  

This analysis was done in collaboration by Lori Harless, researcher and resource coordinator for the Oklahoma Academy, and Jennifer Engleman, communications contractor. You can find more information about these state questions at these links: 

www.ok.gov/elections/Elections_Info/State_Question_Info.html

www.oklahomawatch.org
www.ballotpedia.org/oklahoma

Jennifer Engleman | Oct 31, 2016