Last Tuesday, Norman voters approved the transportation bond, but in a repeat of 2016, they overwhelmingly defeated the stormwater bond and utility. The different outcomes for each of the proposals makes clear that voters did not set out to say “No” to anything and everything. They gave each proposal individual and careful thought.
An analysis of voting by precinct reveals that there was a small number of precincts that voted in favor of the stormwater proposals, but none by a large margin. It is no surprise that those precincts were in neighborhoods near the proposed stormwater bond projects. However, eighty percent of the precincts were resoundingly against the stormwater proposals, even as many of them voted in favor of the transportation bond.
The City is to be commended for its efforts. A citizens committee was appointed to brainstorm stormwater solutions, and city officials invested a lot of time in trying to educate the public about the overdue stormwater repairs and ongoing maintenance expenses that would have been addressed if the proposals had passed. In the end, we do not think the defeat of the stormwater bond and utility can be explained by a lack of understanding on the part of citizens.
Rather, the defeat might be explained by city officials’ lack of understanding of its own citizens. People look at the world through the lens of their own situation. In the case of stormwater, most voters did not perceive paying additional taxes and fees as something for which they would receive a personal benefit. On the whole, citizens were not convinced that they would get a return on their investment.
Now what? The City still needs to repair and maintain aging and deteriorating infrastructure. The City tells us that we are facing projected budget deficits in the coming years, and now the City Council is going to have to decide where to do some serious belt-tightening. We can probably expect a future vote on whether to amend the City Charter to allow the City Council to decide utility fee questions, rather than submitting them to voters. That will be a spicy debate.
Last week’s election reflects the past and will shape the future of Norman. Keep your seatbelts securely fastened. We likely will encounter political turbulence ahead.