House OK’s teacher raises

Nathan Thompson |
Rep. Travis Dunlap

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a revenue bill that would pay for teacher, education support staff and state employee pay raises late Monday night.

It was the first time since 1992 that the House met the three-fourths vote requirement to raise revenue with a vote of 79-19.

The House also passed multiple bills authorizing the raises for teachers, state employees and school support staff.

The measures would increase first-year teacher salaries by just over $5,000. More tenured teachers with higher educational degrees would see a pay increase of well over $8,000. School support staff would see a $1,250 salary hike and state employees would receive an increase of between $750 and $2,000.

House Bill 1010xx is the revenue bill. It would raise the gross production tax on oil and gas drilling from 2 percent to 5 percent for the first three years, add a $1 tax on cigarette packs, increase the gasoline tax by 3 cents per gallon, diesel fuel by 6 cents per gallon and create a $5 per night charge on hotel, lodging and motels with three or more rooms.

The bill is expected to raise at least $447 million in new revenue.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, and former Bartlesville residents Reps. Forrest Bennett and Mickey Dollens, both Democrats representing Oklahoma City, voted in favor of the revenue bill. State Reps. Travis Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, and Sean Roberts, R-Hominy voted against the measure.

In total, 51 of 73 Republicans and all 28 Democrats voted for the bipartisan bill.

During the question and answer session before debate began, Roberts said, “What you’ve done today so far as pushing this through in less than three hours notice — it came out at 4 o’clock, the email that had the bill in it, by the time it got printed we had less than an hour to read the bill — how is this different than Washington, D.C. does? You are shoving a massive tax increase on the people of Oklahoma. This is what the did with Obamacare. How is that different than what we are doing here?”

Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, responded, ” I trust you’ve read the bill. We are on the second special section of the 56th legislature. You have been been up here as an elected official yourself — just like everybody else in this room — for literally 15 months. You know the situation. You know the needs and the requirements of the state. So this isn’t a rush job that you’ve never seen before.”

Wallace was one of the bill’s authors.

Roberts asked a followup question about making a deal with Democrats for the 5 percent gross production tax. “You came to a 5 percent GPT. What was it that made you come to that point, 5 percent, and not 4.8, 4.5, because for the last 18 months we’ve been up here and there’s been debate all over where it would land on that or to do anything at all because it’s going to hurt the oil industry and jobs that are tied to 22 percent of the economy? How did you come to 5 percent?

Wallace replied: “Negotiation process and the agreement to have votes. I would ask on all the GPT raises if you have voted for any of them.”

Roberts said: “I did put a bill out there that sent it to a vote of the people at 4 percent. So yes, I have done something on that.”

During debate Monday night, Sears implored his fellow Republican colleagues to vote in favor of the revenue package. He is a former public school educator.

“We’ve cut and cut and cut. Here’s the chart right here,” Sears said, pointing to a chart showing the state has cut agency budgets 40 percent in the past few years.

“Our state employee’s deserve a raise. Our teachers deserve a raise. The teacher pay raise will help current teachers, but it also will insure Oklahoma will have enough teachers in the future. Fewer and fewer, students at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities are majoring in education.

“This isn’t about teacher raises. It’s about the pipeline. The picture is very clear. People are not going into education. We want people to come to Oklahoma and make a career in education.”

Dunlap debated against the bill. He specifically disapproved of the $5 lodging tax. After the debate and vote, he said the tax bill was put together at the last minute and would have long-lasting impact on the state’s tourism and convention business.

“In general, besides those specific points, the bill was another hastily put-together proposal,” Dunlap said. “What was brand new in this proposal was the lodging tax that I don’t feel was properly vetted. I don’t think that Oklahomans had a chance to respond to the proposal. This was the first time we have ever enacted a lodging tax at the state level. Those are actions that local economies and municipalities use to better their environment. I don’t think they had a good chance to give feedback on what that might cause for them.”

Even if the lodging tax was not part of the revenue bill, Dunlap said he probably would not have voted in favor of the measure. Dunlap prefers any tax-raising legislation to be brought to a general election ballot for voters to decide

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister also praised the House for passing the measure.

“The Oklahoma House of Representatives worked together in a show of admirable bipartisanship to strengthen public education for our nearly 700,000 schoolchildren across the state,” Hofmeister said. “These measures finally ensure Oklahoma’s dedicated, hard-working public schoolteachers receive well-deserved, competitive pay.

“We know that increased teacher pay is not a cure-all for our state’s crippling teacher shortage, but it would solidly put us on track to retain our committed educators and recruit new teachers to the profession. Without a teacher pay raise, an already devastating situation will only worsen, with children being the ultimate victims.”

Although the revenue bill had bipartisan support, it is still unclear whether or not the measure is enough to avoid a teacher walk out on April 2. The Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, has asked for a $10,000 pay increase for teachers — well over the bill that passed Monday night.

The House bills now move to the state Senate for consideration, where another 75 percent majority will be needed to pass revenue increases. It is unclear if the Senate will hear the measures prior to the April 1 deadline for the teacher walk out.