Oklahoma lawmakers are searching for more ways to raise revenue as spring break begins and a teacher walkout looms on the horizon.
Rep. Charles McCall, speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, announced a plan on Thursday that would give teachers raises of $10,000 to $20,000 over the course of six years. But he didn’t announce a way to pay for the $700 million plan.
That money is likely to come from legislation that raises revenue through eliminating tax incentives and other methods, rather than raising tax rates, says eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley.
“These bills are important, because unlike the major revenue-raising measures that increase taxes, they only require a majority vote,” Ashley told KGOU’s Dick Pryor. “There certainly are not the same number of tax-raising measures this year that we were talking about this time a year ago.”.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Oklahoma Education Association, opposed the plan, calling it a “political stunt.” A non-union group, the Professional Oklahoma Educators, supported the proposal, calling it a “workable compromise that will ‘stick.’”
Meanwhile, the House voted to approve a joint resolution that could let voters decide to lower the supermajority threshold for revenue-raising bills from 75 percent to 66 percent. The Senate approved a similar measure to let voters decide whether to lower the supermajority requirement on sales tax increases.
The Capitol will be less busy next week, as many members take time to be with their families during spring break for Oklahoma’s public schools.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, there has been a flurry of activity at the Capitol in the last few days. The Oklahoma Education Association wasted little time rejecting a proposal by the Speaker of the House, Charles McCall, that would raise teacher pay up to $20,000 per year over a six-year period. The speaker's plan was supported by the Professional Oklahoma Educators. But he announced no plan to pay for it and it would cost about $700 million when fully implemented. How could it be paid for?
Shawn Ashley: Well, what the House Republican Caucus is looking at doing is using some of the pieces of legislation that are simply moving through the process right now that would generate additional money. Now, these bills are important, because unlike the major revenue-raising measures that increase taxes, they only require a majority vote. The House speaker himself, for example, has proposed an amendment that would modify the so-called “Romney-lite” plan. This is a limitation on itemized deductions at $17,000. Also, in the Senate during the deadline week, a bill was considered that would eliminate the capital gains tax deduction generating approximately 120 million new dollars for lawmakers to spend. That is an amount equal to, more or less, the first year of the plan outlined by McCall. And there are other, smaller bills like that working their way through the process that could be used to fund it the first year and then in subsequent years.
Pryor: And as a reminder, the OEA is calling for a $10,000 teacher pay raise with $6,000 in the first year. The speaker's proposal appears to provide for about $2,000 in the first year, so there is a wide gap.
Ashley: There is a wide gap there. And then, too, the OEA plan also includes an increase in education funding, generally speaking, as well as a state employee pay raise and pay raises for support personnel, none of which were part of the House Republican plan announced on Thursday.
Pryor: And both the OEA and the Oklahoma Public Employees Association called the speaker's announcement a political stunt and they appear to be moving forward with a proposed teacher walkout on April 2.
Ashley: That's right. The clock is ticking. We're moving closer and closer to that and it appears that they will be walking out as they have announced.
Pryor: Again, the 75 percent vote requirement for a supermajority to pass a revenue-raising bill comes into play once again. A House joint resolution to allow voters to change that provision, to reduce that amount, to a 66 percent vote has passed the House – but narrowly.
Ashley: That passed on Thursday with just a majority. And what it would do is allow voters to go back to the polls to reconsider whether they want to lower that level down to 66 percent. There's also a measure moving through from the Senate side that would reduce that percentage only on sales tax increases to a 66 percent threshold as well. Ultimately, what they will do is put those two votes, two bills together and come up with a final product, but it appears more than likely voters will be asked to go to the polls probably in November to re-evaluate the State Question 640 issue and whether we want to require three-fourths of the legislature to approve revenue-raising measures.
Pryor: So at least for now, lawmakers are looking everywhere they can for money but raising taxes does not appear likely.
Ashley: There certainly are not the same number of tax-raising measures this year that we were talking about this time a year ago. However, what we do see is from time to time, like on Wednesday when the Senate considered its package, that they are moving some of those proposals to the floor to be considered. And Senator Mike Schulz, the Senate President Pro Tem, did say that that proposal likely will be considered again as well as some of the amendments, like Representative and House Speaker McCall's that are waiting in the wings.
Pryor: What should we watch for over the next few days?
Ashley: Over the next few days the legislature will take a bit of a break after the hectic week it had in meeting the deadline for bills to be heard on the floor of their chamber of origin. It's spring break week; a number of members have families and will be taking some time with their families to rest and relax and regroup and prepare for the committee hearings that are coming up for House bills in the Senate and Senate bills in the House.
Pryor: Thanks, Shawn. Time for you to rest, relax and regroup.
Ashley: I will try to do that.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @KGOUnews. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.
As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.