In Oklahoma, a general election means a stack of State Questions, and this year is no exception. Some of these arise from initiative petitions, some from legislative action, but they all wind up on the far side of the ballot, and usually they get ignored unless something controversial is stirred into the mix.

Enter State Question 687, which would ban the arcane practice of cockfighting. Only 1.73 other states (Louisiana, and 24 of 33 counties in New Mexico) permit this sort of thing, so the curiosity value is high and the news coverage typically smarmy. Under 687, you can't stage a fight between game fowl, period; it's a felony to take part, and it's a misdemeanor just to watch. The 7000-member Oklahoma Game Fowl Breeders Association says the, um, industry brings in close to $100 million a year in the state. I've never seen an actual cockfight, despite having lived here for nearly thirty years and another decade in South Carolina, where the SC athletic teams have long been styled "Gamecocks", and I don't particularly want to see one; the descriptions I've seen are rather, well, icky. Then again, mere ickiness is not sufficient reason to ban something — if it were, we could deport Richard Simmons — so I am voting against 687. The fighting pit may be a horrible place for a chicken to end up, but so is Colonel Sanders' bucket, and I don't see any serious maneuvering to ban KFC. And while I'm at it, I am also voting against 687's evil twin, State Question 698, hatched by friends of the fowl and other folk, which would nearly double the number of petitioners required to get measures like 687 on the ballot in the first place, an idea anti-democratic to its very core.

State Question 693 would allow local governments to issue bonds for community or economic development with voter approval, to be financed by temporary sales taxes not to exceed one percent, and would allow the creation of regional districts which could also issue bonds. Under existing law, while local governments can issue bonds, they cannot finance them with sales-tax revenue. Having seen a few temporary sales taxes actually expire, I am reasonably certain that this could work.

State Question 696 would provide a property-tax exemption for storm shelters built in 2002 or later up to 100 square feet. (Shelters bigger than this would be appraised at 100 square feet below actual size.) The storm shelter must be designed for tornado resistance, and so-called "safe rooms" within houses that qualify on tornado resistance will qualify for the exemption as well. I can go for this.

State Question 697 would change the five-year tax abatement plan for economic development slightly. Under the new rules, up to 25 percent of the tax paid by a previously-exempt facility may be used for further economic development, subject to voter approval. The mechanics of this look complicated, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

State Question 701 would limit the amount the state can draw each year from its cut of the tobacco settlement to the actual earnings of the fund or 5.5 percent, whichever is less. Sounds like a good idea to me.

State Question 702 would permit tax abatements for property owners who can demonstrate hardship. These days, I suspect there are a lot of such. Having fallen on hard times once or twice myself, I'm inclined to support this.

State Question 703 would permit state government to contract for IT services with a vendor liability limit no smaller than the dollar amount of the contract. The implication here is that the state has been unable to purchase services previously because no IT provider would sell without some limitation of liability, and on the not-too-implausible assumption that this is in fact the case, I'll give this one thumbs up.

State Question 704 would permit school districts to divert money from their building funds to the county assessor for use in revaluating taxable property. School districts, of course, always seem to need more money, but at the very least this sounds highly dubious: how likely is it that the assessor is going to decide that such-and-such a parcel was overvalued for tax purposes? You might as well let the school board buy state lottery tickets. Oh, wait: we don't have a state lottery. Maybe that will be a question on some future ballot. For now, I'm voting no on 704.

And that's the logic, or lack thereof, I'm taking to the polls on Tuesday. If you're an Oklahoma voter, please be there, whether you agree with me or you think I'm just totally full of it.

The Vent

1 November 2002

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 Copyright © 2002 by Charles G. Hill