Citing 'devastating' effects if S.Q.744 prevails, Henry steps up opposition
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Published: 21-Sep-2010

Saying he would “be involved in many aspects of the campaign,” Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry announced today (Tuesday, September 21) he would serve as chairman of the One Oklahoma Coalition, leading the fight against State Question 744. Henry said, “This may be the most important state question in the last 20 years.”

Henry had previously stated he will vote no, the announcement dramatized intensifying opposition to the initiative. The measure secured ballot status after a petition drive organized by the Oklahoma Education Association and financed by out-of-state groups, including the National Education Association.

Stressing a personal history of support for, and family ties to, public education, including his wife Kim’s teaching career, Gov. Henry said he supports finding more resources for public schools. However, “simply put, State Question 744 is the wrong way to go about it.” Henry said he “has major concerns” about the ballot proposition, slated for a popular verdict on November 2.

Henry recounted, “I’ve helped craft some very difficult budgets. If we pass S.Q. 744, it will devastate the budgets of all other areas of state government” beyond K-12 schools. He underscored particular concerns he has for the effects of the measure, if approved, on funding for “our world-renowned early childhood education,” higher education and CareerTech.

Henry argued, “it would be a mistake to tie the hands of future legislators” with the proposition, which would mandate total state K-12 spending meet the regional average.

Beyond the other areas of publicly-financed education he believed the proposition would hurt, he pointed to “devastating” impacts on funding for corrections, roads and bridges, and other “critical needs” of government.

The governor, a Democrat who is nearing the end of two terms as chief executive, characterized the decision as “a slam dunk, from a policy perspective, a no-brainer.” However, from a personal perspective the decision was “very difficult” because he has “friends on the other side.”

The governor said he would “be deeply involved, and I hope to raise the level of debate.” He said more money for public education is desirable, “but we must do it in the right way.” When a reporter asked if his wife agreed with his stance, Henry replied they had discussed the matter, and “Kim feels exactly the same way I do.”

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Henry declined to criticize advocates of the measure for retaining a large and controversial contribution from the NEA, money which foes of S.Q. 744 assert violates ethics strictures against “PAC-to-PAC” campaign donations. He reflected, “Both sides are going to spend a lot of money. That doesn’t really matter to me.”

When CapitolBeatOK asked him to respond to advocates who believe “something dramatic” must be done to elevate government education funding, Henry replied, “I understand their perspective, and I have fought side-by-side” with some who support the measure. However, “this is not the right way to do it. After this campaign, we all need to come together.”

Henry said he is not certain what the measure would mandate in increased expenditures for K-12, “whether it’s $800 million or $1.7 billion. I do know it would be devastating to state government.” Henry argued that agencies that have already taken 15-20% budget cuts in the last few years can not absorb another round of “double-digit cuts.” He believes S.Q. 744, if passed, would be “devastating not only to state government, but also to our economy.”

Henry said he spoke out forcefully now because, “I think it’s important.” He asserted that “most officials who have been involved in writing a state budget” would agree with his stance.

Echoing the views of other foes of S.Q. 744, Henry said the measure would require increased taxes or dramatic “slashes in the budget.” Due to constitutional provisions requiring legislative super-majorities or popular approval for higher taxes, he said budget cuts to other agencies were inevitable if the initiative prevails.  

Supporters of S.Q. 744 quickly responded to the governor’s comments, delivered in the Blue Room of the state Capitol late this morning.

Tim Gilpin, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK by “Yes on 744,” said:  “I am disappointed that my friend, Brad Henry has made this decision. I am not surprised though, because I knew that the office holders in this state would be against S.Q. 744 because it will shake up the power structure in Oklahoma City and hold our leaders accountable for the promises they make to our students.”

Gilpin, who was appointed to the board by the governor, said, “Brad Henry’s first and best campaign promise was to bring Oklahoma up to the regional average in teacher pay. I believe that voting yes on State Question 744 will allow us to finally make good on this and other promises made to the children of Oklahoma.”

Anticipating criticism of his stance, Henry said he did not expect a “backlash.” He told reporters and members of the Oklahoma Silver-Haired State Legislature a story he heard “years ago, on National Public Radio, when I was campaigning for Attorney General Robert Henry. Ed Koch, then the mayor of New York City, told a reporter that if a voter picked out any 12 issues, and agreed with him on eight, that voter ‘should vote for me. If you agree with me on all 12, you should go see a psychiatrist.’” 

Henry said advocates of S.Q. 744 “know that public education is my top priority. They still recognize what I’ve done for public schools. We just disagree on this issue.”

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