- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World, Dec. 1, 2015

Unprecedented earthquake numbers drive pressure for action

An unprecedented rash of earthquakes in Oklahoma continues, including a 4.7-magnitude one early Monday morning near Medford in Grant County. The U.S. Geological Survey says the evidence is increasingly strong that the earthquakes are caused by waste-water disposal injection wells.

The quakes have ranged from some so small that no one notices them to Monday’s 4.7 temblor. That was the largest Oklahoma earthquake since 2011 but the 26th one of at least 4.0 magnitude in 2015.



The geological survey says there might be a 6.0-magnitude earthquake waiting to happen and points out that the particular swath of land where the earthquakes are occurring is “unheard of” in any other comparably sized area of the globe.

Though some in the petroleum industry deny the culpability of injection wells, a recent report from the Independent Petroleum Association of America acknowledges some industry responsibility for the problem.

Energy In Depth goes on to warn that “states should avoid drastic measures that are fueled more by politics than sound science, including blanket bans on injection wells” and cautions against policies that “ban or seriously restrict oil and natural gas development” as action that would place hundreds of thousands of people out of work, also eliminating millions of tax dollars to local and state governments.

We are fully aware of the importance of the energy industry in the state, but we also know that the earthquake swarm is not an acceptable situation.

We don’t support any overly broad or economically destructive regulations, but we hope the industry recognizes that as long as the earthquakes persist, the pressure on the state to take action will increase. Effective action is in everyone’s interest.

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The Oklahoman, Nov. 30, 2015

Oklahoma City leaders’ concerns about proposed 1-cent tax increase are notable

Recent comments by city officials in Tulsa and Oklahoma City about a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase for public education underscore one of the challenges awaiting backers of the proposal.

The plan, which supporters hope to put to a vote of the people in November 2016, would raise an estimated $615 million by bumping the state sales tax to 5.5 percent. Roughly $378 million would be used to provide teachers with across-the-board, $5,000 pay raises. The rest would go to state universities, the CareerTech system and other concerns.

The initiative petition is being challenged by a conservative group that argues it covers multiple topics, instead of a single subject as required by the state constitution. Backers counter that it does indeed revolve around only one subject - education - and thus will pass constitutional muster.

That’s for the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide. If the question is struck down, backers will no doubt be able to quickly recast it and get back on track. We feel sure the question will make it to the ballot a year from now.

At that time, supporters will have to successfully counter arguments by municipal leaders who clearly are concerned about the effects the tax increase would have on their cities.

In Tulsa, Mayor Dewey Bartlett noted that while he supports additional funding for public schools, the increase would give Tulsa one of the highest sales tax rates among cities. The fact that Oklahoma cities rely so heavily on sales taxes revenues to pay their bills makes the proposal especially worrisome, Bartlett said.

“We are already being hurt tremendously by Internet sales,” Barnett told the Tulsa World. “This will exacerbate the problem. That is without question.”

University of Oklahoma President David Boren, the leading proponent of the education tax, said the state should enter into compacts with Amazon and other online retailers to get sales taxes remitted back to municipalities. He also noted to the World that Oklahoma ranks 39th nationally in total tax burden, due to relatively low property and income taxes.

“A sales tax would be statewide and would not disadvantage one city over another,” he said in a statement.

However in Oklahoma City, the tax plan is of particular concern for a couple of reasons. One is that the city may want to propose a fourth MAPS initiative - the first three have helped transform the city. A MAPS 4 would in theory pick up where MAPS 3, a 1-cent sales tax that expires Dec. 31, 2017, leaves off. The other chief concern is that Oklahoma County voters could be asked to approve a 1-cent sales tax to build a new jail and juvenile justice center.

At a city council meeting last week, Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said flatly, “I know how bad education needs the money, but this is not the way. I don’t see how we can tolerate it.” That remark is telling, because as The Oklahoman’s William Crum noted, White is the council’s chief supporter of public education.

It’s safe to assume other mayors and council members across Oklahoma feel as Bartlett and White do. They want better pay for teachers, but not a tax rate that could harm their municipalities. It is one important facet of this debate that bears watching for the next 11 months.

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Muskogee Phoenix, Nov. 28, 2015

Teacher shortage highlights critical issue with education funding

Approving nearly 1,000 emergency teaching certifications since July is the surest proof yet that state legislators are not doing their jobs.

Or at least, have lost track of their priorities.

Oklahoma school districts began the 2015-2016 school year with more than 1,000 teaching positions unfilled.

Since then, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and individual districts have been working to resolve the issue.

Nine hundred forty-eight emergency certifications have been approved since July.

That could be seen by some as a triumph, but it should also been seen as symptom of the problem.

Fewer teachers are a clear sign that not enough money is being spent on public education.

A cut in state income tax will take effect in 2016.

That’s during a year when Oklahoma is looking at double-digit decreases in state funding.

Public education can’t be a casualty in this process.

It might make sense to spread the budget pain around all those who receive state funding. Maybe that could be seen as a short-term solution to a budget crisis.

Dramatically underfunding public education not only hurts now, it hurts our children’s and our state’s future.

The best thing government can do for society is to raise generation after generation of better educated children.

That should be job 1.

The critical teacher shortage shows job 1 is not being accomplished.

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