On Wednesday night, March 14, the Oklahoma Senate Republicans once again offered a bill that would raise enough revenue to give every Oklahoma teacher a 12.7 percent ($5,000 average) pay raise, provide state employees a $2,500 raise, and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It was essentially the same revenue bill the Democrats in the Senate supported in November.
Wednesday night they voted against the bill.
As one Democratic Senator told me, “It doesn’t meet the ask.”
What is the ask?
Well, depending on who you talk with, the Dems want a revenue increase of as much as $1.5 billion. One Democratic Senator told me that they couldn’t support the bill because the Oklahoma Educators Association (OEA) doesn’t want them to.
After all, the OEA is the one making the ask. This is the same OEA that joined House Republicans a couple months ago at a press conference to support essentially the same plan as being good for education.
So it seems that a $5,000 pay increase for teachers isn’t enough. They want $10,000, despite the fact that the 12.7 percent increase we have presented raises the average teacher salary higher than is found in any of the surrounding states, except Texas.
They want a billion-and-a-half dollars for education, or nothing.
That, despite the fact that over 50 percent of our appropriated dollars go to education, despite the fact that we have other pressing issues to deal with, like the fact that our prisons are at 113 percent capacity. Despite the fact that other essential services are crying for funding, everything from senior nutrition to our medical schools.
But apparently if the OEA wants all or nothing, the Democrats march in lock step. And, of course, there is the politics. With state-wide elections coming up in November, it seems that the Democrats prefer to shut down good policy so they can have a campaign issue in the fall.
That is unfortunate for Oklahoma.
The bill, HB1033xx, has a decent chance of being passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
There is an increase of the gross production tax (GPT) on all oil and gas wells to four percent, a $1.00 tax on cigarettes and a six cent excise tax increase on motor fuels.
After 36 months, all wells increase to seven percent GPT. The motor fuel tax will still be lower than it is in surrounding states. Issues that lost votes in the House last time have been reduced or modified to pick up those votes.
I don’t think there was a Republican on the floor who voted for this tax increase who actually liked everything in the package. That includes me. However, if we want to meet some very real needs in this state, we need to increase revenue.
The revenue package we voted on Wednesday night is a reasonable way to get there. We lowered the ask on the cigarette tax by 50 cents from the last time we ran something like this, when it passed the Senate overwhelmingly.
We changed the GPT increase from just new wells to all wells. We kept the motor fuels excise tax the same (more than 40 percent of which will be paid for by visitors to the state). That tax has not been increased in 31 years.
It seems that the Democrats were for this bill, before they were against it.
I guess it all depends on which way the political winds are blowing for them at a given moment. I, and the vast majority of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, many of whom will be hurt politically by their votes on this, prefer to pursue sound policy.
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Big Cabin), whose district includes parts of Delaware County is in his first term of office in the Oklahoma Senate. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 405-521-5561.