OKLAHOMA CITY – The co-founders of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite walked into the Secretary of State’s office at the capitol Tuesday afternoon to calls from some angry teachers.
“We’re going to fight you every step of the way,” said Troy Buller, a Ponca City teacher. “Just saying.”
“You’re not really opposing just the taxes; you’re actually opposing the money,” said Bartlesville teacher, Theresa Miller. “You can’t do one without the other.”
“We are, and we believe very much that teachers need a pay raise,” replied Ronda Vuillemont-Smith with Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite. “I love teachers. It’s not personal, ladies. It’s not. You’re taking it personal.”
“When it’s coming out of our paychecks, it’s most certainly personal,” Buller replied.
Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite was filing a veto referendum petition that would put House Bill 1010xx to a vote of the people.
Citizens would decide whether they want those tax hikes or not, including the cigarette tax, the gas and diesel tax and the increased gross production tax on oil and gas wells.
That historic revenue package was passed by the legislature this year and meant to fund teacher pay raises, education and other state agencies as well.
“We believe that the citizens have a right that the people that are going to have to pay for this have a right to be able to vote on it,” Vuillemont-Smith said.
Vuillemont-Smith said they want audits done of every state agency and the legislature to find the money to fund core services by cutting waste in state agencies before they raise taxes.
“Until we talk about audits, until we talk about reform, until we talk about getting the things done and getting our state in shape, we should never be talking about raising taxes,” Vuillemont-Smith said. “Raising taxes should be the last thing that we do.”
“We view what you’re doing as a broken promise,” Miller said.
“This simply takes money out of our classrooms, takes money away from kids in the state,” said the executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, David DuVall.
DuVall is urging Oklahomans not to sign the petition.
The group has until July 18 to collect a little more than 41,000 signatures to get this to a vote of the people.
Many teachers said, if that happens, it could be the last straw.
“I think we’re going to look at a worst case scenario as far as public education, and that’s what scares us,” said Bartlesville teacher Heather Boyle.
“If voters support that – that’s fine, but I’m leaving and I’m not coming back,” Buller said.
The tax hikes are set to go into effect July 1 but, if Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite gets all their signatures before then, it would halt the taxes from going into effect until the vote, which would likely be in November.
Right now, it’s unclear what that would mean for the teacher pay raises, which are set to go into effect August 1.