Budget & Tax
Ray Carter | March 2, 2021
Taxpayer-cost bill wins House passage
Oklahoma voters would be informed of the taxpayer cost created by ballot measures in future elections under a bill approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
House Bill 1767, by state Rep. Eric Roberts, would require that ballot measures include up to 100 words describing the potential financial impact created by the proposal.
Under existing law, ballot titles may be 200 words in length, but HB 1767 allows an additional 100 words to discuss anticipated expenses created by a proposal.
Roberts said he filed the bill “to make sure that the voters are fully informed about the potential costs to the state, for not just for one year, but ongoing years.”
The financial-reporting requirement would apply to any ballot measure “that would have the effect of increasing the funding requirements of any department of state government,” and requires that the cost estimate be provided via a “clear statement, in language understandable by a reasonable person, that if the proposal is approved, additional funding would be required by the applicable department or departments of state government.”
Opponents argued that the language of HB 1767 suggested voters have previously enacted legislation out of ignorance.
“It suggests that voters didn’t know what they were voting for,” said Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City. “Is that what you’re suggesting?”
Roberts said when he knocked doors during his campaign last year, he encountered many citizens who “were not aware of everything that (State Question) 802 involved.”
State Question 802 expanded the state’s Medicaid program to include many able-bodied adults. While supporters touted the measure as a financial windfall for the state of Oklahoma, the measure increased state taxpayer costs and could require diverting funds from other uses or imposing new taxes or fees this year.
While supporters said the expansion would cost $164 million annually in new state spending, the Senate appropriations chair subsequently warned that cost estimates had quickly surged to $246 million. In addition, a previous study commissioned by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid, predicted up to 628,000 Oklahomans would become Medicaid-eligible under expansion. Based on current Medicaid expenses, that translates into a state cost of up to $374 million annually.
State Question 802 was rejected in 70 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties in June and lost decisively among election-day voters but passed by the narrowest of margins due to an extremely large share of absentee votes cast in favor of the proposal.
Opponents of HB 1767 argued the bill was designed to thwart initiative-petition measures.
“Let’s be clear,” said Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City. “This is a thinly veiled attempt to limit the initiative-petition rights that are constitutionally reserved to the people.”
But supporters said the measure would help voters make informed decisions.
“All we’re doing here is giving more information to the voters,” said Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid.
“This bill is simple. It’s very concise. And it only adds 100 words to a state question that has a fiscal impact—positively or negatively,” said Rep. Anthony Moore, R-Clinton. “It does not, in any way, create a pro or con side to either side of the bill, but just informs voters of the fiscal impact.”
House Bill 1767 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 76-18 vote that broke along party lines with Republicans in support.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.