OKC parks tax fails
Oklahoma City voters rejected a citizens' initiative for a dedicated parks sales tax Tuesday, largely on the strength of voters' opposition in Cleveland and Canadian counties.
With all precincts reporting, the measure failed 56,269 votes to 50,288.
The loss was a blow to former Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, who promoted the initiative campaign that collected nearly 8,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Former Ward 4 Councilman Pete White ran a shoestring campaign to pass the initiative.
The campaign was a rare case of citizen legislating in Oklahoma City.
Only five previous citizens' initiatives had made it to the ballot since 1930. All five were approved.
Two of those, in 1989 and 1990, created dedicated sales tax revenue streams for public safety and for the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Voters who overwhelmingly passed MAPS 4 in December included $140 million for parks, including $63 million for neighborhood parks.
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White had said the initiative mattered because it would have funded programs in the buildings and rehabilitated neighborhood parks, on the new playgrounds, and on the refurbished playing fields funded by MAPS 4.
The measure called for a one-eighth cent sales tax dedicated to Parks and Recreation to raise about $13 million per year, a 50% increase in the parks budget.
Parks and Recreation Director Doug Kupper had said programs as diverse as summer baseball leagues and dance fitness classes would benefit from the initiative.
Currently, he said, limited transportation options crimp kids' opportunities, such as those that can be offered for summer campers.
"If we want to take them to the art museum for an enrichment program, the best we can do is 12 at a time," Kupper said last month.
He said there were taxpayer benefits that would have been realized, as well, including energy savings afforded by upgrades in lighting at ball fields, tennis courts and soccer complexes.
The parks tax would have been permanent, as is the voter-approved one-eighth cent levy for the Oklahoma City Zoo.
That share of sales tax supports zoo programs, helps keep admission prices low, and provides access to visitors no matter their income.
The request to voters for secure parks funding came as the city manager was requiring Parks and Recreation to cut its budget by $368,000 for 2020-21.
An organization calling itself Secure Oklahoma Inc. ran ads in the week prior to Tuesday's election. It was a "dark money" group that does not disclose donors.