STATE SEN. EDDIE FIELDS: Historic tax increase funds teacher pay raises

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Wednesday night was a historic one as the Senate gave final approval to the largest teacher pay raise in state history. After months of meeting with community leaders, constituents, teachers, state agencies along with hours of debate with colleagues, the House and Senate finally were able to come up with a bipartisan plan to create nearly $500 million of recurring revenue.

Teachers will get a 15-18 percent raise based on their years of service and degrees. A first year teacher with a bachelor’s will receive a $5,000 raise while a 25-year teacher with a doctorate will see an $8,300 increase.

This raise will put Oklahoma second regionally in teacher pay and higher than 19 other states. We will now be more competitive with other states and hopefully stop our talented teachers from leaving the state and turn around the teacher shortage.

The revenue package also provides a much-needed raise for our hard working state employees as well as school support personnel. These raises will help the state be able to better recruit and retain high-qualified professionals by also helping them be able to better support their families.

HB 1010 creates $457 million of new revenue from cigarettes, fuel and the production of oil and gas. We also approved HB 1011 capping itemized deductions at $17,000 excluding medical expense deductions and charitable donations. This change will help create just over $84 million in new revenue.

Our work isn’t done. This is just the beginning. We must continue to look at tax exemptions, apportionments and other areas to find more revenue to continue improving our schools and salaries for school and public employees.

This week’s vote was also historic because it’s the first tax increase the legislature has been able to pass since State Question 640 in 1992 set the threshold at a three-fourths super majority, the strictest revenue raising voting requirement in the country. This has been the major roadblock in creating new revenue in recent years. To raise revenue, the House must have 76 votes and the Senate must have 36. HB 1010 passed 79-19 while the Senate approved the measure 36-10. It’s extremely difficult to pass revenue raising measures in a divided legislature when the parties have strong stances on issues such as taxes then the House and Senate as a whole also have different ideas on how state agencies should be funded. This was not a simple task as you saw through our months of struggle to find compromise.

Unfortunately, a measure to allow the voters to have the opportunity to lower that threshold slightly died in committee this week. HJR1050, if approved by voters, would have amended the constitution to reduce the percentage of votes required to enact a revenue-raising measures from 75 percent of each chamber to a two-thirds majority of each chamber.

Another bill, SJR61, is still awaiting consideration in the House Rules Committee. It proposes a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment that reduces the percentage of votes required to enact a sales tax revenue-raising measure from three-fourths of each chamber to three-fifths. All other taxes would remain at the current threshold. The deadline for bills to be heard in committee is April 12.

You can contact me at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5581 or by email at efields@oksenate.gov.

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Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, represents District 10, which encompases parts of Osage and Kay counties, in the Oklahoma legislature.