TABOR organizers deliver signatures

Sunday, December 18th 2005, 8:30 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Backers of proposals to reduce the growth of state spending and cut back on the government's power to seize private property said Monday they have collected more than enough signatures to place the measures on a statewide ballot.

Supporters of the so-called taxpayer bill of rights delivered more than two dozen boxes of signatures to the Secretary of State's office at about 4 p.m. Monday, one hour before the deadline. The boxes were plastered with labels that read ``Stop Overspending'' and featured a picture of a bloated piggy bank.

The group must submit 219,564 signatures of registered voters to qualify the measure for the ballot.

``It looks like we've got about 290,000 to 300,000,'' said Rick Carpenter, head of Oklahomans for Action, the group that spearheaded the drive.

Carpenter said the group's effort was aided by a strong final three weeks of signature gathering that included telephone messages sent to Republican primary voters.

The Secretary of State's office will now conduct a physical count of the signatures and verify that they are valid before submitting its report to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, said Kathy Jekel, executive director of the office's executive and legislative division.

Jekel said her office plans to begin its physical count on Jan. 3, a process that should take between three and four weeks.

The proposal, State Question 726, limits government spending increases to growth and inflation.

Opponents argue that could starve education, health care and roads if the state experiences extended economic downturns.

Colorado, which implemented TABOR restrictions more than a decade ago, voted last month to suspend a key part of the proposal and give up more than $3 billion in tax refunds to help the state bounce back from a recession that resulted in millions of dollars in budget cuts to higher education, health care and transportation.

Gary Jones, chairman of the Stop State Question 726 Committee, said his group plans to file both a signature challenge and a legal challenge to the petitions.

``Having closely monitored the circulation of the SQ 726 petition, we are confident that many, many signatures will be disqualified and this measure will fail to make it to the ballot in 2006,'' said Jones, who is also the executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

Jones said he also believes that many of the petitioners were not residents of Oklahoma, which would invalidate all of the signatures they gathered.

Carpenter said his group also has received more than enough signatures for a second initiative, which would protect private landowners from losing property to government agencies exercising their power of eminent domain. This power is often used to seize property to make way for improvement projects.

That proposal, State Question 729, needs only 117,101 signatures because it amends state statute and not the constitution. Carpenter said the group gathered between 170,000 and 180,000 signatures for this measure.