On Friday, April 6, Oklahoma legislators passed two more revenue bills in addition to the $447 revenue package they hoped would prevent a teacher walkout this week.
One requires third-party vendors on Amazon Marketplace to collect a sales tax. The other, the so-called "ball and dice" bill, changes rules for casinos to generate revenue. Both passed, although the ball and dice bill will not take effect immediately. They now head to Gov. Mary Fallin.
eCapitol's Shawn Ashley told KGOU's Dick Pryor the atmosphere at Oklahoma's state capitol this week was unlike anything he has seen in his career covering state politics. Throughout the week teachers' chants could be heard, and sometimes felt, said Ashley, as legislators debated and cast votes.
Alicia Priest of the Oklahoma Education Association gave a press conference on Friday afternoon. She said the walkout will end if Gov. Mary Fallin chooses to veto the repeal of the hotel/motel tax and if lawmakers pass a bill ending the capital gains tax deduction.
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Dick Pryor: Shawn, teachers parents and students jammed the state capitol building and forced lawmakers to seek ways to provide more funding for education, over the course of a momentous first week. Let's recap quickly what the legislature did to try to bring the walkout to an end.
Shawn Ashley: Well even before the walkout got started lawmakers passed for the first time ever a major revenue package, more than 500 million dollars in total. And, additionally, for only the second time in the history of the state since 2003 when the law was passed requiring education funding to be approved by April 1st, they did exactly that, approving a 2.9 billion dollar budget for the Department of Education.
Pryor: On Friday afternoon the state Senate passed two bills to generate more money for education. But its vote to repeal an increase in the hotel motel tax, following a House vote to repeal it, ensured the walkout would continue.
Ashley: This is a major concern for those for educators and those who are supporting efforts for them to get more money. On one hand you have lawmakers approving a revenue raising measure package, and then coming back and beginning to undo that. However Sen. Roger Thompson on the Senate floor on Friday stressed that that was part of the agreement between the House and the Senate in the end, in order to assure Senate passage of it. He referred back to when the revenue raising measure was originally considered. And Kim Davis, the Senate appropriations chair, presented that bill on the floor. She said then that that would have to be repealed. We heard that later that same evening from House majority for leader Gregg Treat and Senate President Pro Tem Mike Sholes. This was not a secret. This is just it being done.
Pryor: Two bills did pass: the ball and dice bill and the Amazon tax bill. But it wasn't enough.
Ashley: That's right. In dollar terms that is enough. It generates enough to make up for what is being lost by repealing the hotel/motel tax. But for the educators and their supporters, they want to see more. They're in fact urging Governor Mary Fallin to repeal the hotel motel tax and keep that 50 million dollars that would be associated with it in the funding formula. And they are also asking that lawmakers take up a capital gains repeal which would generate an additional 120 million dollars for lawmakers to appropriate which they hope would also go to common education.
Pryor: The teacher walkout in 1990 lasted four days. This one has reached five, and Oklahoma's capital has become the site for one of the top news stories in the world.
Pryor: I think any time you have close to 40,000 people gathered around and in one building, it's going to be a news story the world over. And that is certainly the case. We've seen that in the press rooms with the number of media there.
Pryor: What's the atmosphere like?
Ashley: The atmosphere is unlike anything I have ever seen at the state capitol. On the outside you have people setting up tents. It almost looks like tailgate prior to an OU football game. And there's almost a festive atmosphere there. Inside we see people who are actively lobbying their legislators. They're going door to door talking to their House members, and their senators, and other legislators in general. And then when the House and Senate are in session they're reminding lawmakers that they are there by chanting in the rotunda. Sometimes you can literally feel the vibrations in the building. And behind closed doors in the press galleries of the House and the Senate. You can still hear them out in the rotunda, and the members are hearing them too. You can see them reacting to the chants coming through the walls.
Pryor: Teachers intend to keep the pressure on. Are legislators dug in?
Ashley: It seems that this may be it for lawmakers, in terms of revenue. House Appropriations and Budget chairman Kevin Wallace indicated that when they took up the measure related to the Amazon retailing sales tax, that it would be the last revenue related measure that we would see on the floor. He said capital gains was traded in exchange for lawmakers votes in the House, on House Bill 1 010, the main revenue package. So it seems like they are shutting the door on additional revenue.
Pryor: And adding to the intrigue, candidate filing for this year's elections begins on Wednesday.
Ashley: In fact, we've already had a couple of teachers announce that they intend to file for office when candidate filing opens. There probably will be others we see on social media where the various education organizations are urging their members to think about running for office if not just filing and doing it.
Pryor: Thanks Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.