Capitol Insider: Answering The Call, Committee Votes To Raise Taxes, Increase Teacher Pay
Oklahoma state lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week and are working to wrap up the second special session, which means voting on revenue-raising measures.
eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley reports the Senate and House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget approved many of the suggestions proposed by the group Step Up Oklahoma.
The bill includes a cigarette and other tobacco products tax increase and a motor fuel tax increase, both of which previously have been approved by a three-quarters vote of the Senate. (State Senator Kim David) said the bill adds an increase in the gross production 36-month discount rate from 2 percent to 4 percent and a gross production tax on zero-emission electrical generation.
However, the joint committee deviated from the Step Up plan to adjust the income tax brackets. Ashley reports, instead, the committee passed a measure that restores the earned income tax credit, makes it refundable and modifies the standard deduction.
The joint committee also unanimously approved a bill to give teachers a $5,000 pay raise.
The Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget hears most revenue-related bills before lawmakers vote on them and is often used as a mediation tool between the two chambers,
The full House could vote on the measures as early as Monday.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your inside look at Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the legislative session is underway. What do we need to know about the first week?
Shawn Ashley: Already in the first week, the second special legislative session has taken up a series of revenue measures and given them “do pass” recommendations, so that they can head to the floor and be considered, including what was originally a major income tax reform measure, that became something much less.
Pryor: In her State of the State Address on Monday, Gov. Fallin challenged the legislature to stop addressing long term budget problems with short term solutions. She said they were elected to solve problems and the time to act is now.
Gov. Mary Fallin: And this is a defining moment for our state. We have two clear choices. We can continue down the road, the path of sliding backwards, or we could choose a second path. Which is to say, “Enough is enough. We can do better. We deserve better. Our children deserve better, too.”
Pryor: Did legislators get the message?
Ashley: I think to a certain extent they did. We began to hear in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget similar language from the chairs of those committees. Rep, Kevin Wallace told his group in the House, these measures that generate additional revenue were needed in order to fund teacher pay raise and core government programs. Sen. Kim Davis on the Senate side reiterated those same ideas, but also pointed out one of the problems that they face with the plans they're working on is that there's no state employee pay raise included.
Pryor: So is there a sense of urgency?
Ashley: I think there is, perhaps, not as strong as the governor had suggested, but there is a realization that they need to move forward with these proposals.
Pryor: The legislature is running a special session concurrent with the regular session. What else has happened in the special session?
Ashley: Well, it sort of got overlooked. On Thursday, the House Rules Committee met in a special session meeting and considered three government reform proposals tied to the Step Up plan. One of them allows the governor to appoint the executive directors of a number of major agencies,, including the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Health, and the Office of Juvenile Affairs. It's sort of a model that was followed with the Department of Human Services reform several years ago that was approved by voters. Another one of those bills also limited the salaries of the executive directors, and the third bill creates an Office of Accountability that would be housed within the legislature, and would be responsible for conducting financial reviews of state agencies and providing that information to the legislature.
Pryor: In addition to finding more money for health and education including, a $5,000 teacher pay raise, the governor said changes in the criminal justice system are important as part of the state's efforts to be smart on crime.
Fallin: Too few Oklahomans are getting the treatment they need for substance abuse and mental health issues, and are instead winding up in our criminal justice system. We need to stop warehousing moms and dads and sons and daughter in prison, when many just need some substance abuse treatment.
Pryor: And that got a big ovation.
Ashley: It was one of the applause lines and it was the only standing ovation that the governor received.
Pryor: Criminal justice measures stalled again last year. Have legislators made any progress on criminal justice issues so far?
Ashley: Yes, that's one of the top items moving through the legislature already. The first bill passed by the House was a bill carried over from the previous legislative session that got caught up in the delay in 2017. That would lessen the penalties for certain crimes and make some felonies into misdemeanors. That now has headed over to the Senate. The Senate for its part also moved a number of bills carried over from the previous legislative session into conference where they could receive final language, all related to criminal justice proposals.
Pryor: In her State of the State address, The governor issued a direct challenge to legislators to send her those bills, and she would sign them.
Ashley: That's right. And it appears some of the first bills that land on the governor's desk, if they're not coming out of the special session, will be criminal justice reform bills.
Pryor: What should we watch for in the next few days?
Ashley: I think in the next few days it will be interesting to see whether those criminal justice reform bills get language, and are considered by lawmakers and sent to the governor for her signature. The other issue is the Step Up plan and the second special session. Will those bills go to the floor of the House and then to the Senate and be sent to the governor, raising some taxes, raising some revenue, and providing a pay raise for state teachers?
Pryor: Time is of the essence on those bills.
Ashley: That's exactly right.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.
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