The Norman Transcript

State/Region

July 7, 2014

Storm shelter initiative may stress general fund

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma budget writers say an initiative petition to install storm shelters and safe rooms in every Oklahoma public school could overstress the state’s biggest and most critical revenue fund and slow the flow of tax dollars for vital public services.

For the second time in less than a year, a group known as Take Shelter Oklahoma is collecting the signatures of voters to put the issue on a statewide ballot.

Supporters say State Question 774 is a moral obligation shared by parents and others to protect school students following a massive tornado that struck Moore on May 20, 2013, which killed seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary School. But others are concerned about the plan’s $500 million state bond issue to fund the shelters, money that would be repaid over 25 years from the state’s General Revenue Fund.

“It’s a sizeable amount of money,” Senate Appropriations Committee chairman s Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said. “You can take it away without a tax increase. But you’re going to have to cut agency spending in this state.”

State Treasurer Ken Miller said government has a responsibility to provide for public safety, but that “further eroding the state’s beleaguered General Revenue Fund with additional off-the-top earmarks is not the solution.”

The storm shelter plan’s advocates first started gathering signatures for the initiative in September, but abandoned it in April after complaining that changes to the proposed ballot title by Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office moved the focus from the construction of school storm shelters to how they would be funded — through a franchise tax on businesses.

The new proposal shifts funding for the school shelter proposal to the General Revenue Fund, a $5.8 billion fund that is tapped by almost every state agency and is state government’s principal operating fund. Pruitt’s office raised no objection to the wording of the ballot title for State Question 774.

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