OKLAHOMA CITY - State school officials are calling Wednesday a "critical day" at the Oklahoma Senate, as lawmakers have the possibility of voting on a nearly half billion dollar tax increase to fund a teacher pay raise.
"Lightening struck. Something that hasn’t been able to be done in 28 years happened on March 26, and this is the time to get behind a very strong plan and accept what is a meaningful raise for teachers and step forward," said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
The deal, now in the hands of the Senate, comes amid a looming teacher walkout on April 2. Hofmeister said it offers teachers an average $6,000 pay increase along with money for support staff and textbook funds.
Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said they are currently polling their members on their thoughts regarding the deal.
"There is no one in the legislature right now saying ‘There’s a better deal; don’t accept this because we can work and sweeten the pot.’ No one is saying that," Allen said. "Sometimes, you have to take the deal and live to fight another day, so the battle isn’t over to get more funding but this is a significant win if they can put the deal together."
To fund the pay increases, HB1010XX includes:
- 5 percent gross production tax (GPT)
- Motor fuel tax: 3 cents on unleaded, 6 cents on diesel
- $1 tobacco tax
- $5 hotel/motel tax on any room booked in Oklahoma
John Tidwell, state director of Americans For Prosperity, said they do support pay increases but there is a better way to pay for it.
"I think we need to really look at how we are doing this because the folks that we’ve talked to, the constituents, the taxpayers of Oklahoma, the ones we talked to are completely against this plan and completely against raising taxes," Tidwell told News 4. "Right now, Oklahoma spends about 55 percent of the money that goes to education for classroom instruction. If that number were pushed to 60 percent, it would be $4,321 teacher pay raise."
His stance was echoed by former U.S. Senator Dr. Tom Coburn. He joined members of the group Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite! on Wednesday for a press conference, recommending a permanent subcommittee on oversight.
"There’s lots of areas where we can go and find the money. That’s not the problem," Coburn said. "The question is do you have the leadership that will go and do it? That’s my complaint."
Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) president Alicia Priest said the walkout is still on.
"We have to keep teachers in Oklahoma and in the profession, and so we are going to have to pay them a wage that they deserve," Priest said Tuesday. "$10,000 over three years is the minimum."
The Oklahoma Senate is expected to return to the floor around 6 p.m. Wednesday.