Oklahoma sits right in the middle of the famed “Tornado Alley,” the area in the heartland known for being the target of multiple tornadoes every spring. The state experiences an average of more than 50 tornadoes every year — sometimes seeing as many as 100.
It is logical to assume that in view of these facts, all schools would have some sort of storm shelter. Many school buildings are those erected by the WPA in the 1930s, making them 70 years-old and have no shelters of any kind. There are schools in the more affluent districts which have modern state of the art shelters, but in many schools students are simply moved into interior hallways or gymnasiums when a storm approaches.
State legislator, Joe Dorman (D), who represents the small farming community of Rush Springs, proposed a bond issue to finance the building of storm shelters in all schools, taking advantage of the state’s rebounding economy and using a suspended business tax to pay for it.
To him it seemed like a no-brainer: protect the children of the state and at the same time have no effect on the budget.
He was wrong. The idea was promptly met with strong opposition from the state’s GOP, including governor Mary Fallin. To them there is something far more threatening than these destructive and life threatening storms — taxes and borrowing.
“Just adding on a new tax burden on Oklahomans is not the answer,” said Republican Janet Baresi, the State Superintendent of Schools and the highest ranking education official in the state. Of course, the proposal would add nothing, it would reactivate a tax which has been suspended and which the state’s Republicans want to permanently dispose of.
Meanwhile there are schools such as the new Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Norman, located in one of the wealthiest counties in the state where every fourth classroom is a reinforced shelter with no windows and a steel door. Other school districts are not so lucky, such as the Plaza Towers Elementary school in Moore where the F-5 tornado struck in May of this year, collapsing a concrete wall in the gym killing 7 students.
Dorman said that he was in no way trying to put Republicans on the spot with his proposal and that he had suggested the suspended franchise tax which assessed $1.25 for every thousand dollars that a corporation invested in the state, a rate of 0.125% because it was not spoken for and would have no impact on the budget.
Accusing Democrats of politicizing the issue, state Senator David Holt (R) Oklahoma City said, “When people are holding press conferences in front of the attorney general’s office attacking the state chamber, we have gone far afield from the issue of our children’s safety.”
The politicians will continue to debate the issue and meanwhile the children will continue to huddle in the hallways and hope that their school can withstand one more tornado without collapsing on them as the business community reaps ever larger profits and pays ever smaller taxes.
h/t: Huffington Post