February 1, 2014
The Tulsa World
Gov. Mary Fallin has found a better way to allow school districts to invest in storm shelters and school safety if they want without taking the decision-making authority away from local officials or tying up state revenue.
Fallin has endorsed House Joint Resolution 1092 by Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, and Rep. John Echols, R-Oklahoma City, which would ask voters to allow districts to go above their bond limits on a one-time basis to raise money for the safety priorities
If storm shelters are local school districts' priority, they can build them.
The cause started in horror. On May 20, an EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, striking two schools and killing seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary. The storm killed 24 people in all.
Historically, storm fatalities at schools are relatively rare, but that argument is hard to make in the wake of the Moore tragedy. Also, proponents of school shelters point out that school days are getting longer, stretching into the hours when deadly storms are more likely.
State Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, deserves credit for making an issue of storm safety at public schools. He has used the idea effectively in building his pending run for governor.
In that sense, the political process is working. Dorman made a proposal, found some popular support for it and pushed the other side to come up with a better idea.
In fact, they have come up with a better proposal. The Dorman plan calls for a $500 million state bond issue backed with dedicated revenue from the state franchise tax. Obligating the franchise tax would divert money from other important state priorities, including education.
Further, the Dorman plan has a one-size-fits-all quality to it. Local schools would be pushed to spend the money, regardless of local priorities, or face seeing their local taxpayers pay for benefits to other schools.
The HJR 1092 alternative puts the decision where it belongs in local hands and provides a local means of paying for it. It's a good fit in the interest of children's safety and the right way to go.