One of the more clarion and rational voices for fiscal soundness has been Tess Teague, of Midwest City. Last fall she stood on the House floor to call for a return to real legislative oversight of how agencies spend the $7 billion that the state takes from us citizens.
This week she made some excellent points about the tax scheme that the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce and 'tall building' corporations are trying to sell to the legislature. Rather than telling you what salient points she made, I'll just post up her excellent letter to her districts's residents.
I voted no.
I heard from many people in this district before the vote, during it and afterwards. While I know some were for it - and who can blame teachers for wanting (needing) a pay raise and advocating for this legislation - most of this district was against it. I have been on the doorsteps this interim and last week during the evenings after session. I've been in your living rooms discussing the budget and tax increases. Today when I went to the Capitol to vote, I took those conversations with me. I stood up against Step Up. While teachers certainly need a pay raise, the Legislature owes it to this state to make sure that happens the right way and we owe it to hard working taxpayers to be respectful of your hard earned dollars and not rob you of it.
The Rich Are Pushing A Tax On the Poor
I cannot in full conscience vote on such a massive tax increase package because I believe it is irresponsible governance to ignore the systematic issues that got Oklahoma into this mess and stick my hands into taxpayer's pockets to solve budget woes. Band-aid taxation is not and will not be the answer. This tax package would have raised, among other things, your income tax and your gas tax. Why have business leaders with above average salaries put together a plan that puts the financial burden on working class Oklahomans? Average salaries of my neighbors in HD101 look a lot different than this coalition. This is how we're supposed to step up? The onus is not on citizens - it is on the Legislature.
The Rush To Vote Before The Good Economic News
It might interest many of you to know that state tax collections are running ahead of schedule for this fiscal year and our economy is ticking up (not to mention, many of the bills we passed in regular session and in the special sessions raised a lot of revenue) and we are actually about to find out in about a week and a half that we have a surplus. I hear that number will be somewhere in the range of $170 million. Wondering why this plan was being rushed through with the utmost emergence right now and just could not wait?? Because how silly would it be to let that news come out and then try to play like we still needed it. When I have money in the bank, I don't ask for a loan and neither should our state. State revenue is up $815 million over the last year, which is enough to balance the budget and give teachers a $5,000 pay raise without a tax increase.
Ignoring Our Stockpiled Billions
I've also been asked, "You voted no, so what's your solution?" There are so many answers to that. The most obvious being that waste, fraud and abuse is not just a hypothetical, but a proven issue in our state agencies and we have got to get control of our state government. Yes, we need audits. Yes, we need investigations. Yes, this will save money and stop the bleeding. No, it's not the only solution. There are countless other reforms including, but not limited to, BTU tax on oil (60% of this would be paid by people out of state and would net a $1 billion return if not more), using existing funds from the CLO could pay for a $5,000 teacher pay raise, TSET funds could be used, administrative costs in higher education could be brought to the national average and would save $300 million per year. The list goes on. I've been repeating today that although the future looks bleak and it might not seem like there is light at the end of the tunnel, it's only the second week of session. Now that the Step Up plan has been defeated, I believe the Legislature can get back to work on something that can pass without harming the hard working taxpayer.
Relying On Taxes That Will Diminish
I'd also note that I find it so incredibly strange that we were ready to attach a teacher pay raise to an unstable income source. The state relied too heavily on oil and gas and when it tanked, so did the state. If we attach our teacher pay raise to something with such fluctuation, can we really consider it stable? Or what about the cigarette tax? Wasn't the incentive for the cigarette tax cessation? Aren't we passing this tax to get people to stop smoking? Well if people stop smoking...then the tax money stops coming in. So....there goes the pay raise. I can't believe this seemed like a viable option. Teachers, you deserve better!
I'm Hearing More Words of Wisdom From My District
I want to thank those of you who have interacted with me and called my cell phone, called my office, sent emails, reached out on Facebook, or given me tea and soda when I stop by your house! I want to especially thank you for your understanding and patience as I go through all of my correspondence and write each and every one of you back. I want to make sure I give everyone the time they deserve. As you can see from this post, the explanations get lengthy.
As always, I welcome your feedback, thoughts, questions, concerns, etc.
Teague represents House District 101, which covers portions of southeastern Oklahoma County.