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Refunds to state agencies vs. teacher pay raises

OKLAHOMA CITY-- Governor Mary Fallin announced Thursday that the $140 million dollar state surplus would be returned equally to the state agencies who had to slash their budgets after two previous state revenue failures.

The other option for that money was to hold a special session to talk about dedicating that money to teacher pay raises, a hot topic in our state right now.

But the governor and legislators made the decision against the special session and now many are wondering how this will affect teacher pay raises.

Officials at the Department of Education say it is unlikely that the $40 million they’re getting back would go to money for teachers.

But Ed Allen, President of Oklahoma City American Federation-Teachers says they’ll still try for Oklahoma City teachers.

“We’re going to be advocating for that and the door isn’t closed on that. But we’ll just have to talk and see where the discussion leads us,” said Allen.

Allen is glad legislators decided against the special session because he says it would’ve hurt the penny sales tax initiative the union is supporting.

“It’s always nice for our political leaders to offer some money but I think it was an attempt to have people vote against the penny sales tax with the thinking, well you know, you just got some money,” said Allen.

“It’s kind of up to taxpayers and voters now; do they want to go that direction? I think most taxpayers and voters know that it shouldn’t have to be this way,” said Dave Bond, CEO of OCPA Impact.

OCPA Impact has lobbied for teacher pay raises but they are opposed to doing it with a sales tax increase.

Without the special session, though, Bond feels it might happen.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of people excited about voting to put upon themselves the highest sales tax burden in America but we care about education in this state,” said Bond.

Other agencies receiving a bulk of the money; the Healthcare Authority will receive $23 million.

State Regents for Higher Education will get $20 million and the Department of Human Services will get $16 million.

While the money is appreciated, many of these agencies say it won’t change cuts they’ve already had to make.

“What this means is we’re sort of putting a band aid on the cuts that we’re having to make. We have a significant shortfall that we’re facing - $103 million. We’ve made $45 million of cuts which is nowhere near what we have to cut,” said Mark Beutler with the Department of Human Services.