By State Rep. Regina Goodwin
Eagle Guest Writer
Session came to a close and teachers will not get a pay raise. The Republican super majority failed to provide money for a teacher pay increase. The unbalanced effort to balance the approx. 7 billion budget on the backs of low and middle income working class is disgraceful, while corporate welfare for the wealthy oil and gas industry is maintained and their business operations are expanded. The across the board approx. 5-6 percent cuts are further hurting Oklahoma. As a Democrat, our proposed Restoring Oklahoma Plan was largely ignored, yet could have provided recurring revenue for a teacher pay raise and core services without across the board cuts. Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Mr. Shawn Sheehan is headed to Texas for an immediate $20,000 raise in teacher pay above the Oklahoma public school starting salary. However, Republicans managed to gather votes to increase monies to be paid on car sales, cigarettes and voted to permit long laterals, more horizontal drilling for oil and gas companies. Bills were passed and signed into law, opening the door for lawsuits to be filed. It is against the law to hear revenue raising measures within the last five days of session.
While Republicans argued that two measures passed in the last five days were not being used to raise revenue or fill the nearly $900 million dollar budget hole, Okie Doke, a 1.25 percent sales tax on car sales passed. Republicans state a car sales tax exemption was repealed which opens the door to collect the car sales tax. Republicans renamed a $1.50 a pack cigarette tax bill as a “smoking cessation fee”, Okie Doke, it was a money raising measure, and SB 845 passed 51-43. It is my belief, among many others, these acts are unconstitutional. A cigarette tax bill failed to pass just days before the bill renamed as a “Cig Fee” passed.
In the beginning of our four month session, Republicans passed rules advantageous to themselves, declaring the Republican floor leader would determine if a bill was a fee or tax measure. A fee would require 51 votes, a tax would require 76 votes. There were 73 Republicans and I am one of 26 house Democrats. Do the math. For a tax bill to pass, 3 Democrats would be needed, a fee could pass with Republicans only. The fix was in early on, and within the last five days of session, a cigarette tax that had failed about a week earlier was renamed the Smoking Cessation Act fee and was passed on the last day of session. A concurrent session could have been requested, allowing for votes on revenue raising measures, yet the Republicans failed to use this legal remedy. As a Democrat, our proposed Restoring Oklahoma Plan, best provided for the cigarette tax to be packaged with a burden sharing Oil and Gas Gross Production Tax (GPT) at 5 percent. Years ago the GPT was set at 7 percent, it was later reduced to 1 percent and in 2014 was voted to be raised to 2 percent.
Republican house members refused to have the oil and gas industry pay a 5-7 percent gross production tax on all old and new wells to help fund education and other core services. Yet, to the benefit of the oil and gas industry, voting on SB 867 was held open to expand horizontal drilling/ long laterals for forty minutes (rules state 2 minutes to vote) until some Republicans switched their votes giving another gift to oil companies with a pressured vote of 51 to 48. Earthquakes are recently on the rise in Oklahoma. The Corporation Commission and the Geological Survey acknowledge wastewater underground injections from the oil and gas industry related to fracking/horizontal drilling cause earthquakes. Four teachers visited me to report 17 teachers in one Tulsa school are now shaking the dust off their feet and seeking higher pay elsewhere. A few in the oil and gas industry dictate and control the House of Representatives, not the super majority. Actions were taken by the Republicans that just days before, their own leadership said would be unconstitutional and retroactive. Shameful, a majority of Republicans, no Dems, passed 54-44 the 4 percent Gross Production Tax (GPT) on a small amount of wells. Don’t be fooled when you read 4 percent, It only applies for one year on about 2,500 wells of the approximately 40,000 oil wells in Oklahoma. This will reportedly raise approx. 85 million in revenue for one year. The revenue amount will decrease after the first year as that is the most productive oil producing time period. Some wells will term out of their three year incentive period. Gross production taxes on existing wells and newly sprung wells at 5-7 percent would have raised approx. $315-450 million, by the way, that recurring revenue would generate a $5000 dollar raise for our teachers in Oklahoma. A small step to honor our teachers. Good bye to all teachers who must move to neighboring and more neighborly teacher paying states. Don’t fall for the Okie Doke budget, some Republicans stated this budget was nothing short of a miracle, this Democrat says God help us!