Storms possible this weekend

Oklahoma Senate passes $447 million revenue package to fund teacher pay raise

OKLAHOMA CITY - In what initially seemed to be a repeat of previous votes on revenue raising measures, the senate narrowly approved a funding package to help pay for teacher pay raises in the state Wednesday evening.

The $447 million revenue package, passed by a 36-10, vote now goes to the governor's desk for signing.

Requiring a three-fourths majority to pass tax increases, the senate vote stalled two votes shy at 34, with Sen. Anastasia Pittman removing her yes vote, albeit temporarily. Three senators weren't present, including Oklahoma City mayor-elect David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. As Holt returned to the capitol to cast a yes vote, bringing the total to 35, he quickly left the floor. Moments later he returned, arm-in-arm with Pittman, as the two walked to her desk and cast the deciding vote.

"When I ask a couple questions and no one can give me a straight answer, then I have some reservations," said Pittman when asked about her vote after session adjourned.

With the passage of HB1010XX, it is the first tax increase approved in the state since 1990. It includes increasing the state's oil and gas production tax to 5 percent, $1.00 tax increase on cigarettes, 6 cent increase on diesel and 3 cent increase on gasoline. A $5.00 tax on hotel and motel stays is also included.

However, plans are in the works to remove the hotel/motel tax from the package. Earlier Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said it would be eliminated through legislation that would follow in the House Thursday.

A House floor amendment, HB1012XX, filed Wednesday afternoon would repeal sections of the revenue package relating to the hotel/motel tax. The hotel/motel tax is estimated to generate $50.4 million annually and provide $46.2 million for appropriations in the FY19 budget. That is expected to be taken up by the house Thursday.

Pittman says she was concerned about the hotel/motel tax within the funding package and the impact it would have on businesses in the state.

"That was $50 million that was taken," she said. "And I want to know how we're going to put it back."

Officials say the plan is to replace the lost occupancy taxes through sales taxes of online purchases.

The Senate also approved caps on itemized deductions and the teacher pay scale.

"It's not enough," said Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, D-Norman, referring to the funding needs of the state and addressing teacher support staff and public employee pay raises. "We're going to pick up tomorrow -- some of those (bills) will be amended. We still have other revenue sources out here."

When asked what he would say to the support staff and public employees, "Hold fast," he said. "Know that more is coming and we will continue to work in that direction."

"High five!" said Gov. Mary Fallin as she walked to the podium in the capitol broadcast press room, joining Sen. President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz and Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat.

"I applaud the parties for working in a bi-partisan way," said Fallin. "We will have a signing party tomorrow."

"Unbelievably historic night," said Schulz, R-Altus. "We still have a few more bills we will do (Thursday)."

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister also released this statement Wednesday evening:

“Thanks to members of the state Senate, our teachers are much closer to a desperately needed and long-overdue pay raise, one that will finally make us regionally competitive and help turn around a crippling teacher shortage. I am grateful for the strong bipartisan support on behalf of Oklahoma’s schoolkids.

This pay raise propels Oklahoma to second in the region for average teacher pay. Nationally, we will move from the basement to better than 19 other states. While this legislation is far from all that needs to be done to reverse years of education funding cuts, it is a tremendous step forward. There is no one more important than the teacher in classroom instruction, and House Bill 1010-XX will be critical in retaining and recruiting teachers. This vote is a bright light for public education in Oklahoma.”

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association, along with the Oklahoma Education Association, still plan on walking out Monday, calling for pay raises for state workers.

President of the Oklahoma Education Association Alicia Priest released the following statement on Facebook Wednesday evening saying "The passage of HB1010xx is a truly historic moment in Oklahoma. This movement, fueled by the courageous acts of teachers, parents, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, custodians, and community members has forced this legislature to finally act. This historic investment of half a billion dollars will benefit a generation of Oklahoma students and will be felt in every community across this state. While this is major progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect. Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Oklahoma students. There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms. That work will continue Monday when educators descend on the Capitol."