State officials are considering what to do with $140.8 million dollars cut from state agencies in the middle of Fiscal Year 2016, but can now be spent. The money is available because General Revenue Fund reductions required by FY 2016’s midyear revenue failure were deeper than necessary.
Gov. Mary Fallin says she is considering using the money to fund teacher pay raises.
“I’ve begun discussions with legislative leaders to consider calling lawmakers to return in special session to address the issue of teacher pay raises. I continue to support a pay raise for teachers, having called on lawmakers at the beginning of this year’s session to approve a teacher pay raise,” Fallin said in a statement. “Lawmakers considered it, but this was an extremely difficult budget year and a funding agreement couldn’t be reached. With this available money, I am again asking lawmakers to act on this important issue of providing a raise for every teacher in this state.”
Without a special session, the $140.8 million would be distributed equally among all agencies receiving general revenue allocations.
Sean Murphy with The Associated Press reports that the teacher pay raises could be upwards of $5,000.
OMES Director Preston Doerflinger, Fallin's secretary of finance and chief budget negotiator, said lawmakers have discussed using the $140 million and other possible revenue sources to fund a teacher pay raise in excess of $5,000 a year.
A $5,000 raise is what teachers would get if State Question 779 passes, which is championed by the University of Oklahoma President David Boren. Under that proposal the state sales tax would increase by one cent, and bring in about $615 million annually. It would fund teacher pay raises, higher education and CareerTech, and State Department of Education grants for early learning opportunities for low-income and at-risk children.
Yes For 779 spokesman Ward Curtin said Fallin's new proposal is like offering a band-aid to a person on life support.
“What’s being proposed is using one-time funding source to provide teachers a one-time increase in their salary that may or may not happen in future years,” Curtain said.
Opponents of State Question 779 worry that it will increase the state sales tax to 9.5 percent – one of the highest in the nation.
Oklahomans will have the opportunity to vote on that this November.