Big differences on how to use a portion of a proposed new MAPS-type penny sales tax were exposed in a public hearing Tuesday at the City of Oklahoma City Council meeting.
Positions taken in the hearing and the results of a new poll suggest the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and some council members are out of step with the bulk of metro residents on how a portion of the tax should be used.
The Chamber supports proposals created by council members and city staff that call for the proposed new tax to primarily focus on streets, with some money expanding police and fire protection.
But, one councilman and a significant group of public education supporters disagree.
“This would allow for our public schools and our streets to receive much needed funds,” said Ward 6 Councilman Ed Shadid who has pushed for the split.
And a recent poll seems to back them up.
The council heard from Bill Shapard of the polling firm SoonerPoll.
The firm recently polled metro residents likely to vote in September when residents would vote on the measure.
Poll results showed that 51 percent of likely voters in the metro favor using a portion of the tax for public education needs that the state Legislature has failed to provide.
An added kick to the results are that the poll didn’t just happen to hit a group of liberals in the metro as the SoonerPoll blog explains.
“Republicans were 61 percent of the poll’s sample and a plurality, 47 percent, supported the initiative, along with 60 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Independents.”
“Oklahoma City residents see the schools and the healthiness of the schools as critical to the vitality of the city as a whole,” Shaphard said.
The Chamber Chair for 2017 Rhonda Hooper, several chamber officers and allies on the council spoke in favor of using the whole penny mostly for streets and infrastructure if the public voted the new tax to start in 2018.
Chamber representatives also threw a new element into the discussion by proposing an extra quarter of a cent being added to the tax.
A representative from the Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP argued for even more of the money to pay for more police officers than the force currently maintains.
But the 17 other speakers all passionately spoke in favor of a different idea about the use of the proposed tax.
They argued that since the Oklahoma Legislature did not come through this year with any improvement in funding for public schools it was incumbent on the two largest cities to take care of the educational needs of its children.
Paula Lewis, newly elected chairperson of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education was one of the speakers in favor of using a quarter of the penny tax for public education.
She bluntly criticized the Oklahoma Legislature for failing to develop meaningful funding reforms as they promised earlier in the session.
OKCPS suffered from repeated cuts in funding during the course of this last school year just ended.
“This tax will help stop the bleeding,” said Lewis.
“Roads are bad. Schools are worse,” said Nic Singer, staff member of the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife live in OKCPS district and have a child who will soon be in school.
After the meeting, Singer talked with Free Press and was sharply critical of the Chamber for its central role in opposing a recent failed state question that would have brought in millions for public schools.
Other speakers spoke on the same themes expressing their view that the metro has a responsibility to educate its children if the state won’t.
The one-quarter cent portion of the new tax to help public schools in the metro would be spread across 24 different school districts that overlap with City of Oklahoma City limits.
However, since Oklahoma City Public Schools is the biggest of those and takes in the largest portion of the MAPS tax area, it is estimated to receive around 70 percent of the funds collected if the idea went through.
A previous one-cent tax, MAPS for Kids, successfully distributed funds to the 24 districts for capital improvements on buildings and heavy equipment.
Either forgetting or ignoring MAPS for Kids, some council members argued against the idea of schools receiving a portion of the funds arguing that splitting it between 24 school districts would be too complex and possibly have problems with the Oklahoma Constitution.
MAPS stands for “Metropolitan Area Projects” and was started in 1993 when Oklahoma City residents voted in a penny sales tax for a limited time to revitalize the city’s downtown. There have been successive taxes voted in over the years as previous ones expired.
The new tax proposals follow a successful pattern of recent decades.
In the past, the city has always had a new “MAPS” idea waiting for residents of the OKC metro to vote on once an existing one expired.
The idea was that keeping a sales tax percentage in place is easier than establishing a new one.
Metro residents first voted in the additional penny tax in 1993 and started what has turned into a decades long process of funding successive new MAPS such as the downtown Chesapeake Arena, refurbishing public school buildings, the latest has been starting both a streetcar line and a huge central park in the core of Oklahoma City.