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Bill blasted for big bite on schools

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A car tag reduction bill backed by Gov. Frank Keating and Republican legislators would cost public
education $76 million to $84 million a year, a state Senate budget leader said Wednesday.

"Given the fact that we rank in the bottom 10 in education funding, we should be working to get more money into our schools, not devising ways to cut their share of the budget pie further," Sen. Cal Hobson said.

Hobson, D-Lexington, said while everyone wants a cut in car tag costs, it must be done "responsibly, without hurting education, road construction or a number of other vital services. The Republican program doesn't do that."

The GOP plan would cost $138 million, although the impact for the first year would be about half that.

"No matter how you look at the Republican tag bill, it still adds up to a huge hit on public schools," Hobson said.

"With one hand, we were able to give teachers a $3,000 pay raise this year, but with the other hand, the Republicans are trying to take a good chunk of school funding that's needed for classroom expenses," he said.

Keating responded in a statement that Hobson was "playing games" and using "the same tired old rhetoric" in favor of more government spending. He said Democrats have dragged their feet all session long on tag relief.

The governor's office did not dispute Hobson's figures, but Dan Mahoney, Keating's communications director, said he was puzzled how the senator could say schools would receive a cut, since a $164 million teacher pay bill already had been enacted.

Mahoney said the auto tag bill by Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, and Sen. Jim Maddux, D-Lawton "appears not to be responsible" because it would be "a tax increase for quite a few people."

He referred to a bill that has passed the House and Senate and is currently in a joint conference committee. The measure would cut
car tag costs by $11 million overall and limit the cost of a tag to $85. It would replace the current 3.25 percent excise tax on newly
purchased vehicles with a one-time 4.5 percent sales tax.

Currently, schools get 35 percent of motor vehicle tag revenue. Counties get 12.5 percent for road programs and cities and towns get 3 percent. Another 2.33 percent go to various funds, with the balance of 46.7 percent going to the state's General Revenue Fund.

Under that formula, the GRF would get $64.9 million next year. By tradition, 55 percent, or $35.5 million, would go to education,
bringing education's total loss to $84 million under that scenario, Hobson said.

Keating and GOP lawmakers have discussed taking the entire $138 million out of the GRF, but that would still mean a loss to education of $76 million, under the 55 percent formula, Hobson said.

Other areas that would lose money by using the GRF, he said, include transportation and general government, $14 million; human
services, $16.8 million; public safety, $15 million, and health and social services, $12.5 million.

The Oklahoma Education Coalition issued a news release saying such a pay cut would have damaging consequences for many school
districts and other educational entities already facing financial trouble because of unfunded mandates, rising insurance costs and growing enrollments.
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