Veto referendum petition causing controversy

OKLAHOMA - Ernie Willis found out from his state representative that his quick stop in Seminole was listed online as a place to sign the veto referendum for State Question 799.

“I was a little dumbfounded at first and then it grew to an anger,” said Willis. “I immediately went to their Facebook page and I said, I am being told that my name and store address is being listed on your page. Please remove it.”

His store was removed.

Willis says he would never set out the petition.

In fact, his wife is the president of the school board in Seminole.

“I’ve been in strong support of them doing something for education,” said Willis.

State Question 799 would put HB 1010xx to a vote of the people.

HB 1010xx is the historical funding package passed last legislative session that raises taxes on cigarettes, gas and diesel fuel and the gross production tax on oil and gas wells.

That money is supposed to be used to fund the teacher pay raises, as well as other education funding and other state agencies.

But, Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite feels the state can find that money elsewhere and doesn’t believe raising taxes should be the first option.

And, they believe the citizens should have a right to vote on that funding package to decide whether we have those taxes or not.

“We believe that the citizens have a right, that the people that are going to have to pay for this have a right to be able to vote on it,” said Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, one of the co-founders of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite, back on May 1 when they filed the petition with the Secretary of State’s office.

Dennis Bates does have the petition in his metro area smoke shops.

“I’m 110% for the teachers and education and the whole nine yards, but not like this,” said Bates.

He says if this tax increase goes into effect, it would be a 97% hike in price on certain products.

“My lowest-priced cigarette, if this goes through, 48% of the cost to the consumer will be state tax and when you put in the federal tax, it’s 72%. So, I’m more of a tax collector than anything,” said Bates.

Some have been upset Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite is leaving these petitions in any stores, saying it’s illegal to leave them unattended.

“It really is a case-by-case basis, so to just blanket, say it is illegal to put these petitions in stores is not accurate,” said Amber England.

England is actually helping to lead a charge against the veto referendum.

Decline to Sign 799 and several other groups are challenging it in the state supreme court based on the language of the question.

They say it is misleading and people won’t understand what a yes or no vote means.

“The signature must clearly know what they’re signing and then what they’re voting on and we believe the gist of that petition is misleading,” said England.

A spokesperson with the Secretary of State says the only thing required by law is that the language of the state question must be attached to the signature petition.

Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite must collect a little more than 41,000 signatures by July 18 to get this to a vote of the people.