Sweeping tax bill fails after vote remained open for hours in House

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OKLAHOMA CITY - A $581 million tax bill has failed after voting remained open late into Monday evening after lawmakers spent the afternoon debating.

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.

In response, Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt released this statement:

"Today, lawmakers on both sides of the debate agreed about one thing: Oklahoma desperately needs to increase revenues to pay for a teacher raise and save Oklahoma's core services. With so much that we agree on, it will be a historic tragedy if Oklahoma lawmakers cannot reach a solution.

Thousands of Oklahomans showed up to the Capitol today hoping for better, but they were disappointed. Those who are teachers and state employees will show up at work tomorrow to continue serving Oklahomans while being paid far less than they are worth. Our lawmakers must show up to continue their work until a substantial revenue plan gets the votes.

Lawmakers still have good options for revenues with bipartisan appeal. On top of the revenues included in HB 1033, sensible solutions include increasing the gross production tax incentive rate to at least 5 percent and ending the expensive, ineffective capital gains exemption. Despite today's setback, Oklahoma has good policies to pay for a teacher raise, restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, save critical health services, and stabilize our state budget."

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister also 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."

The acting superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, Rebecca Kaye, released the following statement:

“It is unfortunate that some of our legislators, particularly those in our OKCPS delegation, are not supporting the Step Up plan to give our teachers a long-overdue raise. The plan may be imperfect, but it is a much-needed first step to finding a compromise revenue solution for our state, and we must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. It may seem as if we have more time in this legislative session to find an alternative solution, but we have to do something. Now. I personally know districts in Texas that are coming to OKC next month to recruit our teachers, and many educators are quickly making plans to leave this profession that they once loved in order to take care of their families. If we lose this Oklahoma/Texas game, we’ll have more to lose than just football bragging rights. Oklahoma will lose committed teachers who are invested in our kids, and we will only have ourselves to blame as we watch them cross the Red River.”