There is a political 'chess match' going on in Oklahoma electoral politics, this summer. And seemingly unrelated issues are now very likely to impact each other, perhaps even deciding the life or death of major proposals. Timing is everything.
It started with legislative leaders passing Rep. Scott Inman's Democrat-sponsored tax rate increase package. The Republican legislative leaders conceded that they could not raise taxes without a vote of the people (whom they never want to give voice to), unless they get the Democrats to support the plan. The Democrats stood their ground and prevailed.
Over the next 6 weeks, the state treasurer published some massive and encouraging news about the Oklahoma economy and tax revenue. It's become abundantly clear that Oklahoma is coming out of a difficult recession and exploding with new commerce and tax revenue. Our current tax rates are resulting in roughly $1.18 Billion in surplus cash to the Oklahoma govt.
This is where the legislature failed once again. Rather than detaching the new teacher pay scale from the massive new tax hikes, the leadership left the enacting clause intact. This happened with full knowledge that Former US Senator Tom Coburn had rallied a large base of citizens (Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite) to challenge the new tax in a constitutional 'Veto Referendum' initiative. The signature gathering process is in full swing and the completed petition will constitutionally block implementation of the tax bill while the measure goes to the voters in a statewide election.
The painful but very predictable issue of timing then impacts Oklahoma's 500+ public school districts who must be prepared for a new fiscal year on July 1st. The veto referendum signatures aren't due until July 18th. Assuming they are certified, the contracts which schools signed on July 1st, are then partially unfunded, or at least unenforceable.
Plenty of people saw this problem. The teachers did, the school districts did. The House Platform Caucus did. Everyone except the legislative leadership and governor knew this was a problem. Once again, legislative leadership and the governor were willing to make the teachers serve as pawns in a political chess game.
The politicians in leadership were only using the teachers in the same way they used mental health patients & the indigent just last year. They even admit that these taxes are only earmarked for education in 2019. then the money is up for grabs in the budget process. That was the real goal. Money to let lobbyists start a bidding war to capture. Lobbyists convert those contracts and grants into campaign contributions back to the politicians.
All the talk at the capitol seems to agree that if SQ788 (Medical Marijuana) passes on the June 26th Primary Election, then the legislature will be called for a special session to address the needed regulatory structure to handle proper licensing of cannabis medicines.
If SQ788 fails, there may not be any special session. If it passes, there very well could be. If there is any form of special session, the teachers will come back in big numbers to pressure the legislature to detach the new pay scale from HB1010xx taxes.
We explained that the state has nearly 3 times the excess money on hand to pay the teachers. If the teachers do not need to support the huge tax hike, the veto referendum will likely prevail and the newly-enacted taxes will fail. And the teachers would prefer the optics of not having to force themselves and their fellow Oklahomans to give up even higher percentages of income to state govt.
The takeaway is simply this... Medical Marijuana's passage could bring about the defeat of the Huge new tax package which Tom Coburn & others are challenging.