OKLAHOMA CITY – Several conservative Republican State Representatives on Friday (February 17) joined with former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn in proposing a path to a teacher pay raise without a tax increase.
The text of most of the their joint statement follows.
“We appreciate the members of Step Up Oklahoma for their civic leadership in addressing the issue of balancing our state budget, raising teacher pay and reforming state government processes. We share their goals.
“We want to provide teachers a $5,000 pay raise and are confident there will be a permanent teacher pay raise this year with or without a tax increase. We also must balance our budget, which will also happen with or without a tax increase. And, we agree with reforming state government to cut out wasteful spending.
:We agree with most of the means chosen by Step Up Oklahoma to accomplish these goals: cutting wasteful subsidies to industrial wind companies; allowing the governor to appoint agency directors, and several of the other ideas furthered by Step Up Oklahoma.
:We also believe that the people of Oklahoma are rightly suspicious of state government. The Health Department scandal shows that there still is a great deal of wasteful spending, ‘bloat’ and ‘mission creep,; and even corruption in state spending.
“The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) has over 1,200 employees who are supposed to catch such wasteful spending and root it out, but they failed. Recently, the whistleblower in the Health Department scandal accused former OMES Director and Gov. Fallin’s Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger of grand jury tampering and witness intimidation.
“If this is how the head of OMES treats whistleblowers, it begs the question: how many other whistleblowers have been discouraged from bringing wasteful spending to light?
“Before raising taxes on Oklahomans, we must make sure state government is spending current tax money wisely, with real performance audits. But a bill to empower the State Auditor’s Office to conduct real performance audits on agencies was vetoed by Gov. Fallin at Doerflinger’s request.
“There are many ways to balance the budget and give teachers a $5,000 pay raise, the combined cost of which is about $760 million. Just last Thursday, it was announced that state revenue is up $812.5 million over last year due to the improving economy.
“Moreover, a bill held over from last year, for Medicaid audits, would remove people no longer eligible for Medicaid in Oklahoma. This one bill would generate savings of at least $86 million, and as Arkansas’ recent experience shows, more likely up to $240 million, which savings could be applied to more efficient uses in our budget.
“Cutting out corporate welfare subsidies to the wind industry, often owned by foreign companies, could generate up to $172 million annually.
“Using existing funds from the Commissioners of the Land Office could also provide additional millions for a teacher pay raise, without reducing any current payments to school districts and without dipping into the current principal corpus of the School Land Trust.
“The Legislature could right now afford the $760 million needed for a $5,000 teacher pay raise and balance the budget without a tax increase.
“And there’s more. For each $1 allowed in the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, $2.58 is generated for scholarships and $1.24 is saved for the state budget, due to leveraging private donations for education. We should increase the current cap on such scholarship credits.
“Up to $95 million of annual revenue from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) is currently used on such wasteful things such as ads for smoke-free strip clubs and drag shows, and billboards against soda pop. These funds could be rerouted to more efficient uses, also. This reform would require a vote of the people.
“School districts could be allowed flexibility to use any part of their property tax revenue on teacher pay if they wished, instead of being restricted to current uses such as buildings. This reform also would require a vote of the people.
“Administration costs in our state’s colleges are 70 percent higher than the national average. Reducing such administrative costs to the national average would save the state over $300 million per year. Currently, legislators are prohibited from making such line-item appropriations to the Regents for Higher Education. A vote of the people would be required to allow line-items on the Regents’ budget.
“There are many ways to reform our education system to make sure more of our tax dollars are going to teacher pay, rather than to excessive administration and other non-teacher costs.
“Bills on all these topics have been introduced this session, but are awaiting committee hearings.”
In supporting the push for budget reforms, former U.S. Sen. Coburn commented, “For too long, bureaucrats have grown Oklahoma state government without being audited. The sensible reforms offered here will help raise teacher pay and right-size Oklahoma’s government without a tax increase. Medicaid audits, eliminating corporate wind subsidies, TSET reform, and better use of funds from the Commissioners of the Land Office are common-sense proposals that are long overdue.”
The group of state House Republicans concluded their statement, saying, “Let’s demand performance audits on the agencies and schools and cut out the waste before we increase taxes. We can still give a $5000 pay raise to teachers and balance the budget in the meantime.”
The GOP lawmakers who are a part of this plan include Reps. Kevin Calvey of Oklahoma City, Scott McEachin of Tulsa, Bobby Cleveland of Slaughterville, Kevin West of Moore, John Bennett of Sallisaw, George Faught of Muskogee, Tom Gann of Inola, Rick West of Heavener, Jeff Coody of Grandfield and Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow.