Storm Shelter funding debate gets heated

In an exclusive News9/Oklahoma Gazette poll, 52 percent of Oklahoma City residents “strongly supported” public funding to help build storm shelters in public schools. Another 26 percent “somewhat supported” the idea.

The survey included 980 city residents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.13 percent. Though, when asked where the funding should come from, the division was pronounced. Thirty-seven percent agreed it should come from sales taxes. Twenty-five percent said it should come from existing school budgets, 11 percent said it should come from property taxes and even more weren’t sure. Twenty-eight percent said they didn’t know where the money should come from.

This adds to the fray considering today’s decision from the state capitol.

Today, House Committee Chairman Todd Russ (R-55) dealt what might be a death blow to House Joint Resolution 1078, or what many now call the Take Shelter Oklahoma (TSO) resolution.

Russ chose not to hear the resolution by its deadline this week, which means it will not go to the House floor for further consideration, he said. It was authored by Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs).

“I want people and school districts to decide at a local level what’s best for them,” he said in a phone call to Oklahoma Gazette.

He said he supports Representative Mark McBride’s (R-Moore) House Joint Resolution 1092, which, if passed, would allow a one-time bond extension to a public vote. If that vote is approved, school districts would have more power to fund their own school shelters, Russ said.

The bond extension would allow bond cost overages to be recouped from a rise in property taxes in that district.

Mark Nestlen, the press contact for Take Shelter Oklahoma, is concerned that “this doesn’t guarantee that any shelter will be built.”

Families in support of the Dorman proposition were more vocal.

“Todd Russ told us to get on board with an $880 million local property tax increase if we wanted storm shelters in schools,” said Mikki Davis, who lost her son, Kyle, at Plaza Towers Elementary School on May 20 last year, in a media statement.

“I am not promoting $800 million anything. … This was a deadline thing only,” Russ said.

There is still some hope — albeit small — that a separate petition drive might survive a legal challenge and bypass the House and Senate, taking TSO’s proposition to fund school shelters to a public vote. Funds would be “serviced by the revenue collected from a franchise tax, scheduled for reinstatement this year,” a media statement from TSO said. It would not require a tax increase, according to Dorman.

This week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court heard arguments regarding a petition ballot started by TSO. A complicated issue, the petition was reworded at one point, which threw the validity of the petition, among other things, into debate.

There is some chance that the TSO petition might be allowed to proceed. If it does, and if enough signatures are collected, the issue (the same wording in JHR 1078) would bypass legislative consideration and move straight to a vote of the people, Nestlen said.


Jennifer Chancellor

Jennifer is editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette. Her journalistic work includes news, breaking news, music, feature and news feature reporting, investigative journalism, news photography, videography, blogging, page design and marketing spanning more than two decades in Oklahoma. Twitter: @JenChancellor

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