- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An anti-tax group opposed to a 1 percent sales tax increase to help fund public education in Oklahoma filed a new legal challenge on Thursday they hope will keep the proposal off the ballot in November.

The group OCPA Impact filed the challenge with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, arguing the general description of the initiative petition contained on the signature pages didn’t properly describe the proposal. OCPA Impact is the lobbying arm of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think-tank opposed to higher taxes.

The group contends the description fails to explain the new tax will be in addition to sales taxes already levied and doesn’t properly explain how the funding will be allocated, among other problems. They also claim the 200-word explanation of the proposal on the ballot is unclear and should be rewritten.

“Voters shouldn’t be led to believe this proposal merely asks them to spare a penny that they might find in their couch cushions or underneath the floor mats in their car, but that’s more or less how it’s currently worded” said OCPA Impact’s Chief Executive Officer Dave Bond.

Spearheaded by University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former Democratic governor and U.S. senator, the one-cent sales tax is expected to generate $615 million annually, with about 70 percent designated for a pay raise for Oklahoma teachers and other funding for K-12 schools. Nearly 20 percent of it, or $120 million, would go to state colleges and universities, with the rest earmarked for early-childhood education and career-technology centers.

Boren said in a statement Thursday he was disappointed in the legal challenge and confident the state question will survive.

Anna King, a member of a statewide committee supporting Yes for SQ 779, was more pointed in her criticism of OCPA Impact, which she described as opposed to public education in Oklahoma. King also described OCPA Impact’s alternative plan to give Oklahoma teachers a pay hike by cutting other state services “nothing but smoke and mirrors.”

“The truth about OCPA is they would love nothing more than to see the demise of public education,” King said.

Oklahoma’s average K-12 teacher salary of $45,317 in 2014-15 ranked 48th among the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to a 2016 report from the National Education Association. The nationwide average teacher salary was $57,420.

The sales tax hike would give Oklahoma the highest combined state and local tax rate in the nation at 9.82 percent, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank that advocates for broad-based, low-rate tax policies.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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