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Legislators push statewide vote on storm shelters

Sean Murphy, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma voters could soon decide whether to approve a $500 million bond issue to help schools pay for storm shelters or safe rooms, which was proposed after a massive tornado killed students at an elementary school this year.

Democratic legislators, attorneys and other supporters are working on language for a proposed constitutional amendment and hope to begin collecting signatures as early as next month, Rep. Joe Dorman said Thursday.

"I would love to get this done by Christmas, before the start of the legislative session (in February)," said Dorman, D-Rush Springs.

Some of the parents of the children killed May 20 when a tornado slammed into an elementary school in Moore actively support the effort, Dorman said. The Plaza Towers Elementary School where seven children died had no safe room where students could shelter as the tornado bore down on the Oklahoma City suburb.

The plan calls for the debt service on the bond issue to be paid by the annual franchise tax levied on businesses that generates an estimated $40 million each year. Any spillover revenue beyond what is needed to pay the bond service would be directed into a fund that would allow financial incentives for individuals and businesses to build storm shelters.

Once the ballot language is given final approval by the attorney general, supporters would have 90 days to gather about 155,000 signatures of registered voters.

Dorman said the plan is for the money raised through the bond issue to be used to match local funds and leverage federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said the Legislature would need to pass a series of "trailer bills" to implement statutory guidelines on how the program would work.

Dorman said he hopes the signatures could be gathered in time to place the question on the 2014 general election ballot, but he said the governor would determine when the election would be held if the signature drive is successful.

"I want to see it done as soon as possible, but the flip side is that I want a high voter turnout so special interests can't try to defeat this bill," Dorman said.

Dorman said he expects resistance from some business and industry groups who are hoping to permanently abolish Oklahoma's franchise tax, which has been suspended for the last three years.


Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy