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Organizations speak out about ‘Step Up Oklahoma’ revenue plan

OKLAHOMA CITY – A nonpartisan group of Oklahoma business, civic and community leaders announced their own plan on raising revenue and funding core services.

Organizers say “Step Up Oklahoma” has created a plan that addresses waste and abuse through reforms and ending the boom and bust cycle of state government.

“It’s no longer enough for business leaders to play Monday morning quarterback. We’ve got to step up to partner with our elected officials in finding solutions and bringing citizen support that helps everyone to make the tough choices that will move Oklahoma forward,” said David Rainbolt, BancFirst executive chairman.  “We must all support efforts to stabilize the budget while at the same time enacting real reforms.  Revenue combined with reforms will put our state on a firm foundation to better serve our citizens. While this plan is not perfect, it puts the state on a positive trajectory.”

The plan calls for the following:

  • Increase to teacher pay
  • Modifying term limits of legislators
  • Lower the supermajority needed to raise revenue
  • Revise the state budget to reflect accurate numbers
  • Require line-item budgets
  • Establish a budget stabilization fund
  • Give the governor direct appointment power over the largest state agencies
  • Make the governor and lieutenant governor running mates
  • Change the process to fill Supreme Court vacancies
  • Create an independent budget office to assist with eliminating waste
  • Allow voters to decide the structure of each county’s government.

Organizers say the plan will raise $800 million, and $250 million of that revenue will be used to pay for a $5,000 teacher pay raise.

“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,”  said Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

The plan says it will raise revenue through the following:

  • Cigarettes, little cigars, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes
  • The energy industry, including the gross production tax
  • Motor fuels
  • Wind-power generation
  • Refundable income tax credits
  • Gaming activities
  • Personal income tax.

The Oklahoma City Chamber’s Board of Directors voted on Thursday to endorse the plan.

“This plan addresses many state issues that have concerned the business community for quite some time,” said Rhonda Hooper, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber chair and president and CEO of Jordan Advertising. “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.”

However, not everyone is on board with the plan.

Officials with the Oklahoma Public Employees Association say that while the plan does address some needs, it does not provide any relief for other state employees.

“This plan only offers state employees a hope of increased pay as state revenues increase,” said Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. “[State employees] have heard these types of promises before and are skeptical because in the past when state revenue was good, a pay raise was set aside due to leaders’ other priorities. State employee will not support any proposal that does not provide a significant pay raise in fiscal year 2019. 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. Data from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services show state employee pay and benefits are around 25 percent below market and employee turnover costs the state $125 million annually. An easy efficiency to gain would be to raise employee pay to slow down unnecessary employee turnover costs.”

“Some state employees have not had a pay raise in 11 years. I imagine the business leaders who developed this plan would never let that happen in their own businesses,” he said. “We understand the need to raise teachers’ salaries and it should be a top priority. Equally important is the need to support core services by raising state employee pay. Public school students rely on state agency services too. If those services are not available, educators’ jobs are much more difficult.”

Democrats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives say they worry about a lack of details in the plan.

“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,” a statement from the House Democratic Caucus.