"Legislative Gymnastics" Needed To Pass Historic Tax Increase
Governor Mary Fallin signed the first state-funded pay raise for Oklahoma teachers in 10 years on Thursday, March 29, but many educators will still march on the Capitol on Monday.
eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley explained that legislators were able to pull off the political feat by suspending rules to expedite the legislative process.
“There were a lot of legislative gymnastics involved in this,” Ashley said. “ If they had gone through the regular process they would have had to meet on Friday in order to get the work done. But by expediting it is suspending the rules. They were able to do it in three days. Politics is the art of the possible and sometimes manipulating the impossible.”
Ashley said the process garnered some criticism, but legislators were aware of the details of the bill before it was sent out via email on Monday afternoon.
“They had been talking for a number of days amongst themselves-- phone calls and emails and some face to face meetings-- to come up with this plan. So they knew what was being put in front of them,” Ashley said.
KGOU’s Dick Pryor pointed out that the immediate repeal of part of the revenue package has cast doubt on whether the pay raise will be fully funded.
“Within 24 hours... the House then voted to repeal part of the package which was the increase in the hotel/motel tax,” Pryor said.
The Oklahoma Education Association says demonstrations will still take place on Monday, April 2 because the revenue package falls short of OTA’s demands. The message, however, may be more tempered.
Dick Pryor: This is Capital Insider: your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Prior with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, after months of work including two special sessions, the legislature finally produced and passed a revenue raising package to fund teacher pay increases. How did lawmakers finally do it this time?
Shawn Ashley: Well, partly, they did it quietly. Keep in mind that over the past year and several months it has been the house that has failed to pass revenue raising measures. They have been unable to generate that three-fourths vote necessary to approve these bills. So this was a deal they put together on their own.
Ashley: It involved both Republicans and Democrats. They worked quietly amongst themselves until Monday, when the plan finally became public, and were able to reach an agreement that could be passed 79 to 19 on the floor Monday night.
Pryor: How much time did legislators actually have to review the legislation before they voted?
Ashley: Well there there has been some criticism of this process. Some saying that it was only an hour and that they didn't have a lot of time to look at what they were considering. That's not exactly true. Lawmakers were emailed copies of the bills which they voted on late in the afternoon on Monday around 4:00 o'clock, if not a little bit earlier. They really didn't move toward voting on those until six thirty.
But earlier in the day both the House and Democratic caucuses had met separately where they reviewed the general outline of what the bills were going to do and in fact there were even some changes made in the teacher pay raise proposal as a result of those meetings. Plus they had been talking for a number of days amongst themselves-- phone calls and e-mails and some face to face meetings-- to come up with this plan. So they knew what was being put in front of them.
Pryor: A lot of people did not think this was possible. On March 9th, Shawn, you said this result was unlikely. You just didn't think they could do it.
Ashley: I really didn't. When you consider the number of days that it normally takes to pass a piece of legislation, which generally is five days, I didn't think they would be able to get it done because I didn't think they would have an agreement and then enough time to move it through. There were a lot of legislative gymnastics involved in this. They suspended the rules so that the bills could be heard immediately first in the House on Monday. Then in the Senate on Wednesday with one day in between for the Senate to look at the pieces of legislation they were able to pass them on Monday and Wednesday and then they were sent to the governor on Thursday and she signed the bill increasing teacher salaries and the revenue package that provides the bulk of the money along with a piece of legislation that puts a cap on itemized deductions. If they had gone through the regular process they would have had to meet on Friday in order to get the work done. But by expediting it is suspending the rules. They were able to do it in three days.
Pryor: Politics is the art of the possible.
Ashley: And sometimes manipulating the impossible...
Pryor: And they did. Within 24 hours, though, of it passing and going to the governor, the House then voted to repeal part of the package which was the increase in the hotel/motel tax.
Ashley: That's correct. This was a concern of the Senate. As word of the plan began to circulate on Monday, and the Senate began to look at the specifics of it, they had some concerns about the hotel/motel tax that became even clearer on Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday when there were a number of hotel owners and operators at the Capitol expressing their concerns about it.
Oklahoma has been trying to expand its tourism and hospitality industry. We see that in central Oklahoma City with the growth of a number of concert venues convention centers and the hotel industry around that. According to some members on the floor in the House on Monday, this would have put Oklahoma City and Tulsa in the top three in terms of their hotel/motel taxes, which could have interfered with their efforts to attract these midsize conventions and other events.
Pryor: That repeal has caused people to be skeptical. And while teachers are getting a pay raise, they remain skeptical and the walkout scheduled for Monday is still on.
Ashley: That's correct. Teachers from across the state are expected to convene on the Capitol Monday to let lawmakers know that they believe there is still more work to be done. The Oklahoma Education Association's president Alicia Priest said this is a nice first step but our ask Is our ask. We wanted more. And you've yet to do that.
Pryor: We'll be back on Monday morning at 7:45 with an update. Thanks Sean. You're very welcome.
If you have questions e-mail us at “News at KGOU dot org” or contact us on Twitter at “KGOU News.” Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.