Oklahoma SQ 754: A closer look

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ayatollah_edmundson.jpgI may have been wrong about 754. I made the mistake of believing the ballot title, which appears to be Ayatollah Drew Edmondson's valedictory middle finger to Oklahoma conservative voters.

The retiring attorney general, a Democrat, is notable for having three political consultants involved with the popular Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) initiative publicly shackled, notable for supporting New Jersey's bid to force the Boy Scouts to have homosexual scoutmasters, notable for enriching a number of law firms by means of the tobacco industry lawsuit (15% contingency fees plus costs and expenses), notable for fighting efforts to open state legal contracts to public disclosure and competitive bidding, notable for refusing to join other states in the suit against Obamacare, and ranked the third-worst attorney general in the nation by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

As his final gesture of contempt toward the state that foolishly elected him four times, Edmondson has taken it upon himself to editorialize in the ballot titles of several state questions, injecting his personal opinion into what should be a simple factual summary of the legislation and constitutional amendments that are being put before the voters.

SQ 754 is one of the constitutional amendments that Edmondson chose to twist. (The PDF linked contains the original legislation and the correspondence with the Attorney General's office over the ballot language.) Here is the actual language that will be added to Article 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution if SQ 754 is approved:

Section 55A. Notwithstanding any other provision of the Oklahoma Constitution to the contrary, whether such provision is in effect prior to, simultaneously with or after the provisions of this section shall become adopted, the Legislature shall not be required to make expenditures for any function of government using a predetermined formula of any kind or by reference to the expenditure levels of any other state government or any other entity. The provisions of this section shall not be construed to authorize the Legislature to make appropriations In excess of the limits allowed by Section 23 of Article X or any other provision of the Constitution.

The same legislation that proposed the amendment also proposed the language that would appear on the ballot (note that the "gist" is 123 words, 20 words longer than the actual amendment):

This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It would add a new Section 55A to Article 5. It relates to the state budget. It relates to the ability of the Legislature to spend money each year. It would allow the Legislature to make decisions about the state budget. The Legislature would be able to decide how much money to spend each year. The Legislature would not be required to spend a certain amount of money for any one government service or function. If this amendment is adopted, the Oklahoma Constitution could not require the Legislature to do this. If this amendment is adopted, the Oklahoma Constitution could not require the Legislature to make spending decisions based on how much money any other state spent.

Edmondson objected that it wasn't at an 8th grade reading comprehension level and "does not adequately explain the effect of the proposition." So he rewrote it, using his authority under 34 O.S. 9(c):

This measure adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds Section 55A to Article 5. The Legislature designates amounts of money to be used for certain functions. These designations are called appropriations. The measure deals with the appropriation process.

The measure limits how the Constitution could control that process. Under the measure the Constitution could not require the Legislature to fund state functions based on:

1. Predetermined constitutional formulas,
2. How much other states spend on a function,
3. How much any entity spends on a function.

Under the measure these limits on the Constitution's power to control appropriations would apply even if:

1. A later constitutional amendment changed the Constitution, or

2. A constitutional amendment to the contrary was passed at the same time as this measure.

Thus, under the measure, once adopted, the measure could not be effectively amended. Nor could it be repealed.

We're now up to 148 words. The amendment refers to expenditures. Edmondson uses the word "appropriations." The amendment is limited to whether the Constitution requiring the legislature to make expenditures -- in other words, to spend at least a required amount. Edmondson's title speaks more broadly about "the Constitution's power to control appropriations." Nowhere does the amendment prohibit its own repeal or amendment, but Edmondson falsely claims that it does.

I still am inclined to vote against SQ 754. If we don't want the legislature's hands tied when allocating scarce resources among state agencies, we should vote against propositions like SQ 744 that would tie their hands. And I'm not fond of overcomplicating our already over-complicated Constitution, especially with language that limits the effect of other constitutional provisions. Better to repeal a provision if you want it to go away.

Nevertheless, all Oklahoma voters should be offended that Drew Edmondson used the ballot as a soapbox for his opinions, not for a fair and clear description of the proposition.

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2 Comments

Tyson Wynn Author Profile Page said:

I have to admit that when I first read 754 I liked it because it seemed like a fail-safe in case 744 passed. But then when I thought about the inability for amendment or repeal, it just scared me. The people should always have a mechanism for changing their minds (because there are always unintended consequences we just can't anticipate). If it's just Edmondson's editorializing that tosses out the red herring about amendment/repeal, I'm thinking it might be worth considering. Thanks for your analysis.

J Greenawalt said:

Sometimes, people whose politics I generally vehemently disagree with, make good points. I think AG Edmonson makes a good point about the inability to repeal or amend the 754. I would again defer to Michael Bate's good judgement and vote no. (Then pray 744 fails!)

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 26, 2010 10:13 PM.

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