Tuesday the City of Oklahoma City Council is set to make big decisions on what kind of sales tax proposals will be presented to city voters in September.
And it looks to be a showdown between the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and public-school boosters on what the council will propose.
The council meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the chamber on the third floor of City Hall at 200 N. Walker downtown.
The original proposal developed by city staff under the Council’s direction called for extending the current MAPS 3 one-cent sales tax for another 27 months and applying it to street improvements as well as police and fire funding increases.
Advocates for public schools, especially Oklahoma City Public Schools, want one-quarter of that penny to go to the operation of public schools.
The Chamber wants to use the whole penny for streets. But, that’s not all.
Chamber representatives surprised the council during the public hearing June 13 with an additional proposal for increasing the sales tax by another one-quarter of a cent.
“A curve ball,” is what Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid called the surprise Chamber proposal.
But in a phone interview with Free Press late Monday, Chamber President & CEO Roy Williams said they “never really did know what the proposal was going to end up being to the voters” until a council meeting in May.
“And so, we did some polling and what we heard was that the MAPS brand is very strong and synonymous with a penny,” said Williams. “For 25 years when you say MAPS, people know it’s a penny.”
He said that the poll results and conversations with people in the city led them to believe that turning one-quarter of the penny into a permanent tax would make people think that “MAPS was going away” because a part of the MAPS brand was the penny.
He said they were not in favor of “taking the penny apart.”
“Our board voted to support the quarter of a penny for public safety,” said Williams. “So, we’re in support of a bond issue. We’re in support of a two-year, three-month extension. And, we’re in support of a quarter penny permanent.”
Shadid, along with Oklahoma City Public Schools Board Chairperson Paula Lewis and other public schools advocates, have pushed back on that idea.
In the council meeting June 13, they had ideas about how a portion of the tax could help.
They proposed one-quarter of the penny be designated for public schools to help bolster the urban school systems in the OKC limits and to not push for a tax increase over the 8.375 percent total it is now.
The current sales tax includes the penny for MAPS, and then taxes for city, county and 4.5 percent for the state.
While there are 24 districts that overlap in some way with OKC limits, the Oklahoma City Public Schools District covers approximately 70 percent of the city and would receive that proportion of designated funds if the council and voters later approved the plan.
OKCPS is the largest district in the state.
It has many challenges because a significant segment of its student body comes from families that are economically disadvantaged or in poverty.
Advocates for the schools proposal argued passionately for the council to include the quarter cent because the state had not come through in the last session.
School advocate Nic Singer, a staff member of Oklahoma Education Association, spoke in the hearing in favor of the schools proposal.
Afterward he was blunt with Free Press about what he saw as the audacity of the Chamber in asking that all of the original penny be spent on streets and adding a new quarter of a cent and not including schools.
“The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber was a major spender against state question 779,” said Singer. “It was a ballot initiative to direct over a half a billion dollars to public schools. They were the primary funder of the opposition campaign.”
Last Tuesday in the hearing Bill Shapard of SoonerPoll weighed in the idea of using some of the tax extension for public schools.
SoonerPoll 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.
In a Facebook post over the weekend, Shadid attacked the Chamber’s approach to the sales tax.
“At the very last minute the OKC Chamber of Commerce has brazenly shoved a tax increase upon the people of OKC … .”
He criticized the lack of ideas for parks, transit and schools.
“Other cities do not have their Chamber of Commerce running the campaigns (polling, tv ads, social media etc..) of every local branch of government (School districts that might want to run a bond, County government and the City of OKC) and this effectively gives the Chamber veto power over what comes to the people of OKC,” said Shadid in the post.
He concluded the post with his harshest criticism yet of the close partnership of OKC government and the Chamber.
“We live in an oligarchy on steroids and this must change if we want our City to move forward.”