Proposal includes $5,000 teacher pay raise

OKLAHOMA CITY — A nonpartisan group of Oklahoma business, civic and community leaders announced Thursday a combination of reform and revenue measures to drive efficiencies, eliminate abuse and waste, and raise revenue to support a $5,000 salary increase for teachers and to fund core services.

The group has formed “Step Up Oklahoma” with rural and urban representatives from diverse business and organizational backgrounds. Step Up Oklahoma held a press conference Thursday at the Oklahoma History Center to announce a plan to raise revenue and reform state government.

David Rainbolt, BancFirst executive chairman and Step Up member said the group is united in its desire to work with state leaders to resolve Oklahoma’s budget crisis. Step Up Oklahoma is advancing a plan that addresses waste and abuse through reforms and ending the boom and bust cycle of state government through revenue enhancements.

Reforms support recent calls from elected officials for greater efficiencies and accountability in state government. Revenues in the plan will provide funding for education, health care and other core services.

“Legislative leaders and the governor are all focused on solutions and this is encouraging,” Rainbolt said. “It’s no longer enough for business leaders to play Monday morning quarterback. We’ve got to step up to partner with our elected officials in finding solutions and bringing citizen support that helps everyone to make the tough choices that will move Oklahoma forward.

“We must all support efforts to stabilize the budget while at the same time enacting real reforms. Revenue combined with reforms will put our state on a firm foundation to better serve our citizens. While this plan is not perfect, it puts the state on a positive trajectory.”

The government reform measures will give lawmakers the tools they need to root out waste and allow time for long-term planning to put into place greater accountability, Rainbolt said.

Other members of Step Up Oklahoma said state leaders must address the budget challenges that are negatively impacting rural areas of the state as well. Tucker Link is the founder and chairman of Knightsbridge Investments and an OSU/A&M regent.

“We are serious about the reforms,” Link said. “Rural Oklahoma has been hit particularly hard by our budget challenges. Hospitals are closing and schools are struggling to keep their doors open. While many of these reforms will require constitutional changes and take time, we believe they need to be on the table. Oklahomans want their government to run efficiently, and they want quality core services. This plan will do that.”

Phil Albert, president of Pelco Structural and a regent for the University of Oklahoma said the state legislature must address public education.

“Education is the key to building a better Oklahoma,” Albert said. “Teachers are the difference makers. To attract and retain fine teachers, we must compensate them adequately. The time to act on teacher salaries is now."

The plan will raise $800 million with over $250 million to support teacher salary increases and the remainder to support core services.

After Thursday's Step Up Oklahoma press conference, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised the business and community leaders for addressing the issue of low teacher pay.

"I want to commend the business and community leaders who have stepped up during a difficult time to help solve our state's budget crisis and fund a long-overdue teacher pay raise," Hofmeister said. "I am greatly encouraged by their efforts, and I thank them for caring enough about public education to pursue solutions. Their engagement should give parents and teachers hope for a more promising future."

Rainbolt said the Step Up Oklahoma plan is one that state residents have been expecting lawmakers to accomplish, but because of political gridlock at the State Capitol building, the legislature has not stepped up to the plate.

“Our citizens want a financially sound and efficiently managed state,” Rainbolt said. “This plan will reverse our course and revive our future for the benefit of all Oklahomans.”


Examiner-Enterprise and Journal-Capital staff writer Nathan Thompson contributed to this report.