Any Oklahomans who really thought it was going to be a cakewalk giving public school teachers $3,000 annual raises while balancing the state budget with taxes on rock n’ roll and cigarettes as outlined by Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State address Monday should read an Associated Press article about a Senate Finance Committee meeting shortly after the governor’s remarks.
Here’s the key paragraph in the article written by AP writer Sean Murphy:
. . . while tapping some of the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of tax incentives and credits is tempting for budget writers looking to close the funding gap, the political reality is that each of the incentives has a constituency prepared to fiercely defend them.
— KFOR (@kfor) January 21, 2016
Fallin didn’t really address what the article calls the “political reality” in her remarks Monday that opened up the legislative session. She wants the state to start to collect sales tax money, for example, on digital music purchases. The governor also is advocating raising taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 a pack. These proposals and others are supposedly going to make up for the approximate $1 billion budget shortfall and growing the state faces for next fiscal year.
The AP article points out the Senate committee voted against a bill that would prohibit some companies from getting tax breaks using the Quality Jobs Program and then also using another tax break for “investments that create new jobs.” One legislator called it “double dipping.” The committee did, however, pass a measure reducing tax incentives for developers of clean energy in the form of wind power. The two votes considered together represent backwards thinking in its purest form.
So do we have enough money yet for the teacher raises? Well, not quite.
Oklahoma has a major teacher shortage crisis and faces a current revenue failure, which is forcing schools to make drastic budget cuts. One big reason for the teacher shortage is low salaries here. Teachers get educated and trained here and then move to Texas or other states to make a lot more money. Here’s a major point: Oklahomans pay to provide teachers for other states. Meanwhile, we import toxic fracking wastewater from some of these same states, which has helped to create our earthquake crisis.
We give other states highly trained, gifted and dedicated teachers. They give us their toxic waste.
Obviously, my references to “rock n’ roll and cigarettes” are sarcastic. Fallin also wants to move around some unappropriated state money as well to fund government next fiscal year. She does have a proposed plan, but it’s only a plan. It’s not fait accompli, and I doubt it’s going to work or pass through the legislature. Teachers here shouldn’t get their hopes up if they’re relying on Fallin and the GOP-dominated legislature to address their concerns.
Take a look at Fallin’s plan:
Proud to deliver my sixth State of the Address today. Read more here and for links to my speech and budget proposal: https://t.co/wDzHZ7iwz5
— Governor Mary Fallin (@GovMaryFallin) February 1, 2016
Be sure to read my take on the speech and Fallin’s proposed budget:
Not a word about state's earthquake crisis from Gov. Mary Fallin in SOTS address. Ignoring it only makes it worse. https://t.co/23MCYaEFde
— Kurt Hochenauer (@okiefunk) February 4, 2016
I realize that some progressives here oppose the initiative ballot petition drive supported by University of Oklahoma President David Boren to raise the state sales tax by one penny to fund $5,000 raises for teacher and other educational needs. They consider the tax regressive, which means lower-income people will pay more of their income on basic necessities.The state has been cutting income taxes for wealthy people over the last several years, and this one-penny tax could add to even more inequality.
But there’s a breaking point, and Oklahoma has reached it. Unless there’s a huge political shift here, the state will continue to fund education at one of the lowest levels in the country. Teachers will continue to flee the state. It’s an emergency, but our current state leaders won’t act. That’s why voters need to act.
I’ve stressed this before: The one-penny increase in the state sales tax would benefit lower-income school children the most through additional teachers and better equipment and supplies.
This must be restated as well: The state does NOT have a high state sales tax rate. Oklahoma ranks 36th in the nation with a sales tax rate of 4.5 percent. The sale taxes levied by local municipalities are the reason Oklahoma ranks high overall in such taxes. Both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the state’s most highly populated ares, could do a better job of increasing their local revenue through different means than overall regressive sales taxes. Why would leaders in the state’s two major cities not at least propose other ideas—realistic ideas, not ideology or sweeping generalizations—for increasing education funding if they’re against the sales tax hike proposal?
The problem remains that those against the one-penny sales tax increase just don’t have a realistic plan for funding education at anything close to an adequate level, and with Oklahoma’s economy tanking, it’s only going to get worse. The state’s tax revenue in January dropped by a whopping 13 percent. The oil and gas industry here continues to lay off workers because of a worldwide glut in fossil fuels they helped to create and didn’t appropriately anticipate. Meanwhile, earthquakes, which scientists have determined are caused by an element of the fracking process, continue to damage homes and property here.
The tragedy of it all is there are intelligent, decent Oklahomans who could implement polices and ideas that could at the very least alleviate or mitigate our problems and undoubtedly create new foundational structures for funding vital state services in the future. But they don’t get much of a voice here.
Got a light? Heard that new Toby Keith—hmm, I mean Alice Cooper—song?