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Business and civic leaders say they’re stepping up to try to solve the budget crisis

OKLAHOMA CITY - Some of the state's top business and civic leaders are stepping up, hoping to help fix the state's budget crisis with a plan for reform and revenue.

The group “Step Up Oklahoma” announced plans for both revenue and reform measures on Thursday at the Oklahoma History Center. They say no one's going to like every part of the plan, but they're hoping lawmakers will hear them out.

"We've got to put the state ahead of any of our personal interests in coming to this conclusion,” David Rainbolt, BancFirst Executive Chairman and Step Up Oklahoma Member, said.

A passionate group of business leaders are stepping up and hoping to solve the state's financial crisis with their own plan.

"Nobody in our group, nobody in the governor's office and nobody in the Legislature in either party likes every part of this plan. It is compromise by definition," Rainbolt said.

Under the proposal, "Step Up Oklahoma" is advocating a plan that will affect taxes on the following:

  • Tobacco
  • Motor fuels
  • Wind-power generation
  • Personal income tax
  • Refundable income tax credits
  • Gaming activities
  • Gross production tax on energy companies.

"Currently, new wells are taxed at 2% for 36 months. This proposal would take all of those wells and raise them to 4% and all new wells after the affected date of legislation would be at 4% for 36 months and then 7% after that,” said Glenn Coffee, a business owner and group member.

Coffee says the Oklahoma Tax Commission predicts that will bring in $133 million.

The revenue measures have been discussed by lawmakers before, but these top business leaders hope they'll look at it again.

"You begin to dream about where this gets us in terms of moving the state forward and how normal it could be if we passed this. Then you might be able to accept some of the things you don't like in exchange for the things that move the state forward," Rainbolt said.

The other part of the package consists of reform measures:

  • Lower the supermajority threshold required in the Legislature to pass revenue-raising measures to 60%
  • Establish a 'Budget Stabilization Fund'
  • Revise term limits for legislators to 16 years
  • Give the governor direct appointment power of the state's eight largest agencies, including the  Corporation Commission, Labor Commission and Secretary of Education.
  • Run the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket
  • Change the process of how a Supreme Court vacancy is filled by 'attracting the largest yet diversified pool of qualified candidates.'
  • Create an independent budget office
  • Grant voters at county level the authority to form their county government
  • Revise state the budget to reflect all sources of revenue.

They say it will raise $800 million and plan to use $250 million of that to support a $5,000 teacher pay raise. They say the rest will go to support core services.

All of which they hope will boost economic growth.

"When that happens, the people in the state of Oklahoma have more jobs. They have more access to the things they want, quality of life goes up. It lifts all boats," Rainbolt said.

Opponents argue it will not support core services.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association executive director Sterling Zearley sent out a release saying in part, “Parts of the plan are good for the state. We do need new forms of recurring revenue and coalition’s plan accomplishes that. We always need to always look for efficiencies in all areas of state government. Where this plan falls short is that it does nothing to improve core services that our citizens and communities rely on.”

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister supports the plan.

She says in a press release, "I want to commend the business and community leaders who have stepped up during a difficult time to help solve our state's budget crisis and fund a long-overdue teacher pay raise. I am greatly encouraged by their efforts, and I thank them for caring enough about public education to pursue solutions. Their engagement should give parents and teachers hope for a more promising future."

House Democrats also released a statement saying, “We are appreciative of the members of the business community who recognize that the failed Republican fiscal policy is the cause of Oklahoma’s current budget crisis. However, we believe the plan presented today is lacking in important details, and our caucus is hesitant to endorse the proposal at this time, especially given the stark lack of diversity among the members of the coalition. We will be discussing the plan with members of our communities and districts and also with stakeholders who were left out of the coalition, such as the wind industry, state employees, teachers, correctional officers, and working families who have been adversely impacted by devastating budget cuts.

House Democrats released a budget plan almost a year ago, the Restoring Oklahoma Plan. We are encouraged that Step Up Oklahoma’s proposal incorporated portions of that Plan, such as the Gross Production Tax and the Personal Income Tax, but again, those portions of the proposal are severely lacking in details.

The House Democrats and Step Up Oklahoma seem unified in the belief that if we don’t invest in Oklahoma teachers, public employees, healthcare, education, roads, and corrections, our entire state economy is left in peril. The House Democratic Caucus is ready to work with Step Up Oklahoma to build on this common ground and form a budget solution that works for all Oklahomans.”

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Board sent a statement supporting the plan.

The chamber chair and president and CEO of Jordan Advertising said in a press release, “This plan addresses many state issues that have concerned the business community for quite some time…The fact that such a broad coalition of business leaders, representing a cross-section of our state’s vital economic sectors, have come together and developed this significant proposal should send a clear message, not only to our state legislators but to every Oklahoman, that it is time to work together to put the welfare of Oklahoma above individual interests.”

For more information visit www.stepupoklahoma.com.