Tuesday, February 4, 2014
By: The Lawton Constitution Editorial Board
Gov. Mary Fallin is backing a good, local-option plan to help improve safety and security at public schools. Legislators should give serious consideration to House Joint Resolution 1092, which contains Fallin’s ideas.
The plan would let voters approve a one-time increase in schools’ bonded indebtedness capacity, sell debt and add local real estate taxes to build storm shelters and address other similar issues. Districts in which local patrons see the need and want to proceed should have that option. About 700 of 1,800 school buildings have safe rooms or storm shelters, Fallin said.
As was noted in Monday’s Constitution, patrons in several schools in Jackson County are ahead of the state. They either have built an underground classroom facility or a storm shelter or are preparing to build a storm shelter from metal shipping containers, using volunteer labor. Local control works.
The need for shelters was obvious last May when a series of tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City area. The twisters killed 50 people, including seven children at Moore’s Plaza Towers Elementary School.
A recent series in The Constitution pointed out to area readers the need, problems, challenges and options.
Fallin’s plan is superior to one authored by state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, who is terming out of office and is exploring the idea of running for governor. Dorman’s plan would authorize the state to issue $500 million in debt and raise the franchise taxes or obligate general revenue funds to retire the debt. Those taxes would be passed on to the state’s consumers.
Using general revenue funds to pay debt is a bad idea because those funds will be needed by future Legislatures for current operating expenses. Limiting them to debt payments leads to future tax increases.
Dorman, who says Fallin’s plan would create a huge local property tax increase, anticipates that the state bond money could be matched with local and federal funds. He sees the three sources producing $1billion to build shelters or safe rooms.
In another day and time when federal debt wasn’t out of control (now $17-plus trillion and about to be raised again), Dorman’s idea might have been feasible. Today’s reality must be addressed. The country is nearly broke.
If the state were to issue debt, it should be to take care of state government needs. Repairing the state Capitol and Jim Thorpe buildings and other maintenance items should be at the top of the state’s list.
The state Legislature convened Monday and we must recall Mark Twain’s warning: “No man’s life, liberty or property is safe when the legislature is in session.”
That is why it behooves us to pay attention and support a plan that is financially feasible and one that preserves local control. Gov. Fallin’s plan to let local school patrons make the decisions to add safe rooms/storm shelters is the best plan offered so far.
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