It is always better to do things “right” rather than “rushed.” The simple version is the rules were suspended in the House, and the Representatives were given one hour to read the bills involved with the teachers’ pay raise; then they were asked to vote on it. It passed with more than the 76 votes needed on Monday Night. The bill then went to the Senate for approval. But two significant things happened on Monday night after the bill was passed in the House and before the Senate was to address it on Wednesday.
Firstly, enough people had contacted their Representatives that there no longer would be the 76 votes needed to pass the bill if it went back to the House. The Senate was not happy with the five dollar hotel fee (tax) per night (this was to bring in 50 million dollars per year) and they were not thrilled about the ball and dice section either, (this was to bring in 25 million additional dollars per year). Just a little side note -- when has any estimate done by the legislatures actually produced that amount of money for education? I’ll just use one of the vice taxes, and that is the Lottery. It was sold to Oklahomans that it would bring in 300 million dollars a year for education. Do you remember that? The average yearly income from the lottery for education is 68 million dollars. So much for education dollars, it is a good thing they estimated correctly.
The House contacted the Senate and informed them that they did not have the votes to pass it again. They assured the Senate that they would amend the bill and take out the five dollar hotel tax if they would pass it “as is.” So…the Senate did pass the bill and Mary Fallin, gleefully, signed it. The ink wasn’t dry on Mary’s signature before the bill’s funding was being depleted by 50 million dollars when the five dollar hotel tax was removed. Some referred to it as a “bait and switch.” It is not a bait and switch. If the Senate would have changed anything, it would have been necessary for it to go back to the House, and they did not have the votes to pass it a second time!
Secondly, what occurred Monday night is by far the most significant, yet, is flying under the radar. Overnight the group called Oklahoman Taxpayers Unite! (OTU) was started, and they held a press conference last Wednesday announcing their opposition to the vote. OTU is not opposed to raises for teachers; they are opposed to raising taxes to do it! They announced they are starting a “Veto Petition” to be placed on the November 6th ballot. Senator Tom Colburn was the spokesperson for the group. Do not underestimate what potentially could happen!
OTU will need approximately 42,000 signatures to place this on the November Ballot. I have talked with fellow teachers about this, and they don’t think OTU will get the needed signatures. With all due respect, that is delusional. They could stand in front of a smoke shop and say, “Do you want to pay $1.00 more for a pack of cigarettes or sign this petition to stop it?” I’m pretty sure there are more than 42,000 smokers in this state. OTU will have 90 days to gather the necessary signatures. They will have no problems getting this on the ballot, and that is not even considering oil and gas moguls putting in their two cents.
You say, “Big deal, this veto petition is on the ballot.” Here is the potential for what that means. Once the signatures are gathered, there will be a stay of implementation on HB1010XX until the people vote to confirm it or Veto it. That means the raises (which were due to go into effect in August) will be on hold until the November 6 election. The people will decide whether we teachers get pay raises by raising taxes. If the people approve it, the pay would be retroactive.
I hope teachers are listening to talk radio; it doesn’t matter what station; it is all the same. The calls are running 10 to 1 against the teachers! Some Legislators have publicly stated they are not going to vote on education bills again because of the way some teachers have responded to the legislators. Since then, those legislators have publically apologized. Some of the Capitol staff stayed home because of death threats. Tuesday, teachers were kicked out of the House gallery because of being too disruptive. Does this behavior, from some teachers, make it more likely or less likely that we teachers will get more funding from our state Legislators?
You might think, well, the people will vote for keeping HB1010XX. We have very short memories. It was only two years ago that a teacher pay raise went to the people for a vote with the Boren Penny Tax Bill. It was struck down with 59% of the vote! The precedent for the people voting against the raising of taxes for paying teacher raises has been set. There are no guarantees that the people will confirm HB1010XX in November.
Thursday, our school is scheduled to start the State testing in Science. Here is a dirty little secret. If we miss the Federal testing for our students, we think we have financial problems now,..they will just be getting started. The Federal government can withhold funds to our State!
It appears the longer this walk out goes, the less public opinion is on the teachers’ side. The Legislators do not have the votes to add additional money for what we teachers are asking. Some have publically stated that, others privately.
There has been the comparison to West Virginia and to follow their example. In fact, people from West Virginia are here to help us in our efforts. Thank you for your help! West Virginia asked for a 5% pay raise and was given a 4% pay raise. They said, “No, we will continue to strike!” They got the 5% pay raise for which they were asking. Oklahoma teachers were originally asking for a $5,000 pay raise, and we did not get it. We then asked for a $10,000 pay raise and got an average pay raise of $6,000. Depending upon one’s longevity in teaching, that works out to be a 15%--19% pay raise. With all due respect to my fellow teachers, there is a huge difference between 5% and 15%! Also, West Virginia did not have a group of taxpayers who formed a group to fight the way the raises are funded.
I am not one to just see potential problems, but I, also, want to give suggested solutions as well. I mentioned the Republicans voted for the largest tax hike in Oklahoma history. In full disclosure, I am a Republican who is running for office. Almost all of the Republicans ran on being fiscally responsible and most, if not all, signed a pledge to not raise taxes. So much for that pledge. I am friends with many of the Legislators and in fact, have had some of them speak to my Pre AP History Class. The following link will take you to our website: https://sites.google.com/okcps.org/tnt-lecture-series.
Having said all of that, the legislators did not have to do a rush job to get HB1010XX passed. There were other ways that could have been utilized to accomplish the same thing. There would have been even better results and no teacher walk out. So what do we do?
- James Taylor
Opinion of the Editor
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David Van Risseghem is the Director of Sooner Politics.org. The resource is committed to informing & mobilizing conservative Oklahomans for civic reform. This endeavor seeks to utilize the efforts of all cooperative facets of the Conservative movement...