Is the ballot constitutional?


Just now getting a minute to write about this, this being the lawsuit filed by former City Councilor Todd Huston challenging the constitutionality of the September 9th county sales tax ballot. I saw the story in the Whirled this morning, and I called Todd around midday, and he gave me a few more details. He said the intent of the suit was not to stop the election but to have it move forward with a ballot that is constitutional. The suit targets propositions 3 and 4.

The issue at stake is the anti-logrolling provision of the Oklahoma state constitution. Logrolling is the practice of combining unpopular items with unrelated popular items in an attempt to get the unpopular items approved. That definition accurately spells out the rationale for including higher and common education in a package that includes the twice-rejected downtown sports arena. Originally the same ballot item would have included money for American Airlines, but there was an effort (supported by several city councilors) to make the AA item and higher ed separate from the arena. Some of the Chamber Pots on the leadership team claimed that AA's executives wanted to be tied to the arena, but a phone call to AA soon exposed that fib.

In the end, AA was split off, but higher ed remained attached. I was told at the time that a number of business leaders threatened to withhold funds for the vote yes campaign if the arena was made to stand on its own.

There was a lawsuit in 1995 regarding an election for a 1/2 cent sales tax to build the new Tulsa County Jail and fund crime prevention programs. The judge ruled for the plaintiff, effectively cancelling the election and forcing the County Commission to schedule a new election, this time with the issues separated. In the rescheduled election, the crime prevention program funding failed, while the jail tax passed, which is why our sales tax rate is 7 and 11/12ths percent, rather than a full 8. The issues in that case were closely related to each other, especially compared with a ballot item that links an arena and a health care center. The judge in that case, Jane Wiseman, has been assigned this case as well.

In 2000, the County Commission was very careful to group "4 to Fix the County" by subject in four separate ballot items: Parks, Flood Prevention, Roads, and Expo Square. I recall Commissioner Wilbert Collins saying at the time that they'd have preferred a single ballot item, but the law required the split.

Here's what I think happened this time: After the leadership team got done with their horsetrading, the County Commissioners took the four-item proposal, gave it to the lawyers, and told them that the groupings are set in stone -- make it work. The lawyers must have worked hard, because they didn't have the ballot resolutions ready for the Commissioners to review until an hour before their meeting on July 7. The lawyers took the approach of using vague headings to cover all the items in propositions 3 and 4 -- "economic development" and "infrastructure".

As someone who worked hard publically and behind the scenes for a logical ballot that gives voters meaningful choices, I'm happy to see that voters may actually be given the ballot they deserve. Not only is it the right thing to do, it appears that it's the law.

P.S. Thanks to the 300-plus visitors to my site today. Sorry I didn't have anything new for you to read until now!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 26, 2003 11:53 PM.

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