BY JOE DORMAN
I want to start off this week by apologizing for something inadvertent that I did this past week. I have been working with a group of citizens called Take Shelter Oklahoma to secure an initiative petition to get storm shelter funding for schools in Oklahoma. I invited all the legislators to attend the filing and press conference at the State Capitol through my work email. In addition, I recorded my weekly blog through the House media discussing how the legislature refused to address this during special session and this resulted in the need for the petition, along with recording a meeting with shelter experts to narrow down the topic for the legislation, along with the proposed petition. It turns out that statutes prevent not only the promotion of a petition once it is filed, but also using any state resources to discuss any potential filing of any initiative petition. The State Republican Party Chair chastised me for this oversight publicly, so I apologized to my colleagues for not being aware of that issue. I also wanted to apologize in this column for overlooking that as I should have read the guidelines more closely. The last thing I want to do is misuse any resources provided through my position, so I assure you that nothing like this will happen again.
We have been very busy as a group with preparing this initiative petition to go to the people. The language on this proposal takes the current Franchise Tax in Oklahoma and redirects the funds to cover the debt service for a $500 million bond. Currently, the Franchise Tax goes to the General Revenue Fund to cover all costs across the boards in the state, much like most other taxes collected. This bond money will be placed in an account in the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to only be used to provide funds to local schools for the purpose of building storm shelters or enhancing their buildings for school safety concerns. The local school boards will be responsible for securing designs on construction, along with the proposed costs. Once these plans are secured, the school will put up a percentage of matching dollars as determined by the legislature in order to receive the funds. The match is to keep the design plans realistic for the community so each school does not ask for more than is necessary. Private funds from donations, in-kind construction contributions and gifts from organizations like Shelter Oklahoma Schools will also assist the local school in securing the matching dollars.
The Franchise Tax currently is estimated to bring in over $40 million, so that will leave about $10 million in collections remaining. I have legislation filed to allocate this amount to use for rebates in private shelters. Any individual in Oklahoma may apply for assistance to build personal storm shelters from this separate fund to also be administered by OEM. I envision that this will not only be used by homeowners, but also establishments such as mobile home parks, apartment complexes, assisted living facilities and other businesses which have persons who live in their care. This will also be available to churches and private schools to receive this benefit.
While other proposals have been suggested, this initiative is the only one that will not raise taxes in any form or fashion. By using existing revenue collections and dedicating them to a specific purpose, that will allow for those who pay the Franchise Tax to know exactly where their money is going and the benefit which will be seen by this program.
I want to conclude my column this week by extending my sympathies to some very good friends of mine for the passing of their daughter, who I was fortunate enough to be named her godparent. Joe and Shannon Denney’s daughter, Katie, passed away from injuries last week in an ATV malfunction. She was a beautiful teenager who was a kind, caring young lady. I was looking forward to her paging at the Capitol this year and I am sad that I will not have the chance to spend that time with her. Please keep them, their friends and their other family members in your thoughts and prayers.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me to discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is www.joedorman.com on the Internet. Thank you for taking the time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.