Voters across Oklahoma went to the polls on Tuesday for mostly local elections, including a series of sales tax initiatives in both northeast and central Oklahoma.
In the city of Tulsa, voters approved three separate tax propositions totaling 0.55 percent. They deal with public safety, infrastructure, and capital projects as part of the Vision 2025 program first approved in 2003.
“The tax rate will not go up in Tulsa,” said The Journal Record’s managing editor Adam Brooks. “It’s just extending what they already have and will stay at 8.517 percent.”
60 percent of Tulsa voters approved the proposal, according to the newspaper’s Molly Fleming:
The public safety tax will become a permanent 0.26-percent tax in 2021. For the first 15 years, the tax is projected to generate $202 million for the police department and $70 million for the fire department. It will fund 160 new police officers and 60 firefighters.
The transportation portion will be a permanent rate of 0.085 percent starting on Jan. 1, 2017. In the first 15 years, it is forecast to generate $45 million for street maintenance and $57 million for transit operations and capital improvements.
The economic development tax has a 15-year lifespan. It will fund improvements at several city attractions. It also supports two Arkansas River improvement projects: a rehabilitation of the Zinks Dam, and building a South Tulsa/Jenks Dam. Jenks residents also approved a 0.55-percent sales tax, with $16.7 million going toward the project. With five out of six Jenks precincts reporting, 78 percent of voters cast a ballot in favor of the measure.
Voters in Edmond also approved a pair of sales tax extensions. One is similar to Vision Tulsa, and other so-called “quality of life” initiatives like Norman Forward or Oklahoma City’s MAPS. It will pay for a performing arts center in conjunction with the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and a new downtown facility for the Metropolitan Library System.
“There was some opposition because it's not really codified that that's what it has to go to,” Brooks said. “Those are just ideas what it could be spent on. Edmond still has the lowest sales tax in the metro area at 8.25 percent.”
Uncertain Scrubber Situation
On Tuesday Oklahoma Gas and Electric again went before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to try to get the regulatory agency to approve its plan for scrubbers to control pollution at its coal-fired power plant near Red Rock. It’s part of a requirement from the federal Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Rule to limit smog in national parks.
“OG&E is asking the Corporation Commission to approve just the plan to add its scrubbers,” says The Journal Record’s energy reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo. “In this case, OG&E is asking the Corporation Commission to approve just the plan to add its scrubbers. The company says it will cost about $500 million, but they'll come back later to get reimbursed for the project costs.”
The OCC has denied OG&E’s plan several times, Terry-Cobo reports, and the utility is making its case under a 2005 state law that requires the Corporation Commission to pass on the costs from a project that results from federal environmental mandates.
“House Bill 1910 doesn't preclude the constitutional mandate Commissioners have to consider whether any utility project is prudent,” Terry-Cobo said. “So we can't really predict how the Commissioners will vote.”
OG&E says it will likely convert that coal-fired power plant in Red Rock to natural gas if the Commission denies its plan yet again.
The company must comply with the federal air rules by January 2019, but it will take several years to make changes to power plants and meet the deadlines, it wrote in documents filed with the agency.
OG&E Regulatory Affairs Managing Director Don Rowlett said the company needs to know whether the OCC would determine its plan is reasonable. But the company isn’t asking the agency to address the costs, he said.
“We need the commission’s (approval the plan is reasonable) to make a significant investment before we move forward with the project,” Rowlett said.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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