State House Comes Up Short For Step Up OK Bill, Teacher Raises
OKLAHOMA CITY - After leaving the vote open for more than six hours, the state House of Representatives gaveled out without passing the largest portion of the Step Up Oklahoma plan.
The plan failed 63 to 35. It needed 76 votes to pass.
“The school teachers and those who have dedicated their lives to children, when they hear this kind of news it’s soul crushing,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
Hundreds of teachers and supporters of the plan rallied Monday at the Capitol to try to get lawmakers to back it. The plan was developed by a group of business and community leaders calling themselves “Step Up Oklahoma,” and included an increase in the fuel tax, the tax on tobacco, and the tax on oil and natural gas production, called gross production, jacking it up from 2 to 4 percent.
“Because they’re staring down the barrel of seven percent in November. Because there is an initiative petition and the voters want seven percent,” said Rep. Emily Virgin, Democratic Caucus Chair.
The bill would also change the taxes on wind and income taxes.
“This bill is far from perfect. We haven’t laid eyes on half of it. And we don’t even have the numbers for most of it,” Virgin said. “This is being rushed through on the fifth day of session.”
“This isn’t knee-jerk; (these) first five days of session. We have been working on this for over a year,” Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Lincoln County, said.
Even backers admitted, it’s not a perfect plan, but it would have stabilized the budget while giving teachers raises.
“It has been 10 years since the legislature has increased teacher pay. It is past time to do the right thing,” said House Speaker Charles McCall.
McCall insisted this is the last revenue plan he will put on the floor this session.
“If we don’t raise the right taxes the right way, the balanced way that asks everybody to contribute, not just the poor and the middle class -- if we don’t raise enough revenue then next year when you come in and ask for more, they’re gonna say you already got yours,” Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, told teachers in the gallery.
Backers of the plan say there’s simply nowhere else to cut.
“If you’ve already cut 45 percent out of your budget that you’ve already cut the fat? That maybe you’re at the 10th level and you’re bleeding out? Because that’s where we are,” Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Canadian County, said.