DALLAS Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is reviewing the wording of a petition seeking a statewide vote on $500 million of state bonds for storm shelters at public schools.
Paperwork for the initiative petition was submitted Sept. 18 to Oklahoma’s secretary of state by Take Shelter Oklahoma, which was formed after tornadoes in May killed 47 people, including seven students who died when their elementary school in an Oklahoma City suburb was leveled.
If the petition wording is accepted by the state, organizers would have 90 days to collect almost 160,000 valid signatures from registered voters.
The petition asks Gov. Mary Fallin to put a constitutional amendment authorizing $500 million of shelter bonds on the November 2014 ballot.
The bonds would be supported by the state franchise tax, which generates $40 million a year. Additional bonds could be issued after the final maturity of the initial $500 million of bonds.
Kathy Turner, a former school superintendent who is heading the petition effort, said storm shelters at schools are a critical need in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley.
“It's not a matter of if we're going to have bad weather,” she said. “It's a matter of when and where the tornadoes will strike.
State Rep. Joe Dorman, a member of the steering committee for the bond drive, said the lack of adequate shelters at many public schools is a statewide problem that needs a statewide solution.
“Protecting children is the responsibility of every Oklahoman,” Dorman said.
The state bonds are necessary because local districts have limited debt capacity, Dorman said, and have to make hard choices with their available resources.
“If we left this solely to local school districts, scores of communities would have no option but to raise property taxes,” he said.
Parents deserve the peace of mind that students have sufficient shelter during life-threatening weather, he said.
"After what we saw in May, it is a reminder that no one is safe in Oklahoma unless you have storm shelters in place,” he said.
Local districts could leverage the bond proceeds to obtain a 3:1 match for federal funds, Dorman said.
“I see this issue as similar to an insurance policy,” said Dorman. “You hope you never have to use it, but you are sure glad you have it when catastrophe strikes.”
A recent poll found 87% of Oklahoma voters favored requiring schools to have storm shelters.