GOP, governor announce new budget proposal

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

OKLAHOMA CITY — A Republican proposal to increase some taxes to fill a $215 million budget hole and provide pay increases to teachers and state workers is receiving mixed reaction from Bartlesville-area legislators.

Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin announced Republican leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate reached an agreement to adjust the fiscal year budget to pay for the budget gap, a $3,000 pay increase to Oklahoma public school teachers and a $1,000 raise for state workers.

If passed by the legislature, the agreement would raise taxes on cigarette packs by $1.50, increase the fuel tax by six cents, raise taxes on some alcoholic beverages and restore the Earned Income Tax credit.

“This agreement is the result of countless hours of discussions and meetings,” said Fallin. “I appreciate President Pro Tem (Mike) Schulz and Speaker (Charles) McCall working to provide a long-term solution to our state’s continuing budget shortfalls. It is apparent that rapid changes in our economy have created unsustainable and unpredictable revenue collection patterns. We need to seek long-term sustainability and stability as opposed to unpredictability and volatility. This agreement makes more recurring revenue available, helps us stop balancing our budget with one-time funds, and provides a teacher pay raise as well as a raise for our hard-working state employees, who have not had an across-the-board pay increase in eleven years. And, most importantly, it provides sufficient revenues to meet the basic responsibilities of state government, such as education, health and public safety. We must deliver services that work for the people, and put people over politics.”

Schulz said: The Legislature has a tremendous opportunity with this deal to solve our immediate budget crisis, put the state on more solid financial ground moving forward, and deliver on a much-needed and much-deserved pay raise for classroom teachers and most state employees. As Senate leader, I’ve stressed to senators the importance of long-term thinking and planning. This deal gives us the chance to deliver on that, and institute reforms that will have a tremendous impact on our state for years to come. I appreciate Governor Fallin and her staff, Speaker McCall and his team, and the members of the Senate leadership team for their hard work in bringing this deal to fruition.”

McCall said: “We believe this plan gives us the best opportunity to pass the House and Senate, and provide the state with needed revenue to stabilize mental health and substance abuse programs, keep rural hospitals open, and provide a pay raise that would make Oklahoma teachers the highest paid in the region for starting pay. This plan also provides recurring revenue for transportation infrastructure and restores the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income Oklahomans, which more than offsets any increased consumption costs for low-income earners.”

Democratic support is a big question for lawmakers, as most Democrats are not supporting the agreement. In order for the revenue package to pass, Republicans will need Democrats to support the measure in order to gain the 75 percent majority needed to pass new taxes.

“Since we unveiled our Restoring Oklahoma Plan last March, the House Democratic Caucus has been clear that we will not support a budget deal that balances the state’s checkbook on the backs of Oklahoma workers while refusing to ask the oil and gas industry to pay their fair share,” according to a statement by the House Democratic Caucus. “It is obvious that this budget is meant to meet one objective, which is to find a way out of this budget shortfall without restoring the gross production tax on oil and gas wells. Instead of asking the oil and gas industry to pay a fair and just tax, Republican lawmakers would rather tax working class Oklahomans.”

The caucus statement also said raising taxes while offering teachers and state employees pay raises was a terrible way to balance a budget.

“Our Caucus remains resolved that teachers and state employees deserve to be compensated fairly, but we will not support a plan that puts money in their right pocket just to take it back out of their left,” according to the statement.

Democrats are also looking to raise the gross production tax on oil and gas exploration in Oklahoma, something Republicans have not agreed to.