OKLAHOMA CITY - A local teacher wrote an honest open letter to the Oklahoma Legislature after a $581 tax bill that would have given teachers a raise failed.
On Monday, House Bill 1033, part of the Step Up Oklahoma, remained at 63-35 for hours. The measure would impose additional taxes on tobacco, diesel fuel and wind energy. It would also raise the gross production tax (GPT) on all wells from 2 percent to 4 percent.
In order to pass the House, it needed 76 votes.
Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City spoke in opposition of the bill. Democrats said they'd like to see a 7 percent GPT but they were willing to settle for 5 percent.
"The same people who bear the brunt of four-day school weeks and having to find childcare for their kids on Fridays, the same people who bear the brunt of rural hospitals closed... they want you to pay more, while they have their fat cats off the hook," Inman said on the floor.
If passed, supporters said the money would go towards giving teachers a $5,000 annual pay raise with $20 million used to balance the Fiscal Year 2018 budget deficit. Right now, the Legislature is in the middle of a new session while the second special session runs concurrently after lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal.
Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman questioned the rush to pass the tax bill.
"Folks, it is day five of a 120-day legislative session," Virgin said. "To say that you’re going to take your ball and go home after day five? I think you deserve better from your legislators."
House budget committee chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston said the plan wasn't perfect, but it was needed if Oklahoma wanted to give teachers a raise and fix the budget.
"We've ran bill after bill in negotiations, and I'm telling you this is the best opportunity and the best hope we have to pass recurring revenue," Wallace said.
Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka was the final speaker during the debate. Speaking specifically to House democrats, he urged compromise.
"I understand this package doesn't include everything you'd like to see. I understand that this package includes things that you would not like," McCall said. "You and I have that in common."
The vote remained open at 63 in support, 35 against until 11 p.m. Monday.
After the bill failed to pass, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister released a statement, saying:
"The failure of the state House to pass HB 1033 is a soul-crushing blow to public education in Oklahoma. The teacher shortage is real, it’s severe and each day it goes unaddressed we put our children further at risk.
Until Oklahoma offers regionally competitive teacher pay, we will see the continued exodus of teachers to other states and other professions. We will continue to see young people reject teaching as a viable career. This crisis hurts every public school student in Oklahoma, and it’s a crisis that only the state Legislature can remedy.
I am grateful for every legislature who voted with education today. We fight on."
Following the vote,Putnam City North High School teacher and soccer coach, Thomas Pecore, took to Facebook to voice his honest frustrations at the state legislature.
An Open letter to the Oklahoma Legislature.
I have never been so embarrassed and disappointed in our state Government as I am now. I am finishing my 30th year of education and I am retiring soon and most likely my words will fall on deaf ears. I have decided to practice what I preach every day and that is that this is a government of ‘we the people’ and that I will not be silenced by apathy or indifference.
The damage that the Oklahoma Legislators have done and will do to our education system will take years to repair. Not having a raise in the past 9 years was bad enough, but to realize that we have been reduced to nothing more than political pawns is demeaning to those that work for the betterment of Oklahoma children.
From the Governor’s office to every legislator - you should be ashamed of yourself for what you have done to education. When I travel to coaches workshops around the country, it is disheartening to know that we are the laughing stock of America and our elected leaders are seen as nothing more than a bunch of ideologues driven by their own selfish self-interests.
Today I was asked by my senior government students about the future for them in Oklahoma. I told them that they should do the best they can in getting a college education or training in a technical field and then they should leave the state. I told them that they need to think about their future and what kind of schools they want for their children. I asked them if they want to live in a state where the elected leadership placed no value on education and teachers.
Sadly as I write, there are several young teachers that are currently planning to leave the profession because they can no longer afford to teach. Young teachers with young families are planning on moving to other states that support education. Many older and experienced teachers have decided to retire rather then put up with the incredible level of disrespect that has been shown to them by our elected officials. But then again, you have shown time and time again that you do not care and all that we hear is lip service when it comes to education.
I personally know of several people in the oil industry and they are sitting back laughing at our legislators because they know that you will do everything you can to keep them fat and happy. Look around at what the other states are charging as far as the production tax and see the difference in their economies and schools. All I keep thinking is, “how stupid can you guys be?"
A personal friend of mine, who is a retired executive with Conoco, said that oil companies will go where the oil is and that the majority of Oklahoma legislators do not have a clue when it comes to economics. Judging from some of the comments I heard last night I am pretty sure he got it right.
If someone said that the sky is falling, most of you would dig a hole!
It sad to think an Oklahoma teacher with a family of four qualifies for food stamps; must work two or three part time jobs to make ends meet and cannot even afford to send their children to Oklahoma universities without putting themselves and their children in debt.
By failing to invest in education you are condemning Oklahoma's children to a substandard education that will impact them for a life time. How can you look into the eyes of an elementary teacher and tell her she is not worth a decent wage? Who cares how much of her personal money that she spends to make her classroom a warm, safe and loving environment for her students?
How can you look into the eyes of a coach who spends hours away from his family and tell them that they are not worth a decent wage? The weekends, long days, and summers translates into time spent away from their families while helping someone else’s kids reach chase their dreams.
How can you go to your doctor knowing you have the best state health coverage at the tax payer’s expense and that Oklahoma teachers’ pay the highest premiums in the country?
How can you sleep at night knowing that when a teacher retires from years of unselfish service to our country, they retire into poverty?
How can you and the other legislators even look at yourself in the mirror knowing what you did to all the families of every teacher in Oklahoma?
Why is it that when a Democrat comes up with an idea that republican says no? Why is it that when a Republican comes up with an idea that Democrats say no? However, when your side prevails at defeating the other side you go around thumping your chests like you have accomplished something when in fact you have failed miserably. This is not a game!! You are dealing with peoples families….! There is no statesmanship, no effort to compromise, and no desire to work for a solution for the common good.
All we hear from you guys is about waste in education. If you really want to save money in education then take a big step and call a classroom teacher and we can give you some good suggestions - but then again, that would make too much sense.
For the record, I am a registered Republican but this I will tell you as pledge on my honor that I will vote against every incumbent and I will use every tool at my disposal to encourage every friend, former athlete, and contact that I have to vote you out of a job.
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical,” Thomas Jefferson.
The storm is starting with me!
Thomas A. Pecore
Husband, Father, Grandfather, Teacher and Coach