The Step Up Oklahoma plan to raise revenues to finally address the dire teacher shortage in Oklahoma failed in February 2018 primarily because the minority House Democrats wanted 5% instead of 4% gross production tax for the first 36 months of a well. The Republicans, heavily influenced by the oil oligarchs, refused to go above 4%.
An experienced oil man told Wayne Greene of the Tulsa World that a 1% increase in that tax would be a like a 30-cent decrease in the price of oil over the life of a well. As Greene wrote, “It’s insignificant. It’s less than the rounding error in the pre-drilling projections, my source tells me.”
A significant majority of the House members embraced the Step Up plan, but we need a ridiculously high 75% supermajority to raise taxes in Oklahoma (but only a simple majority to cut them, which is the reason we are in such dire straits). The failure of both parties to embrace an obvious compromise not only killed a desperately needed teacher pay raise to address the teacher shortage, but actually led to another $22 million cut in public school funding to balance the budget. So yet again the schools took the hit from a state revenue failure, on top of multiple past failures that have devastated their budgets.
How strange that the marginal difference between a 4 percent gross production tax over the first three years of production and a 5 percent gross production tax over the first three years could shut down any progress.
Logic says that neither side would be fighting if the cause weren’t significant, right? If the distinction for the oil companies’ bottom line is less than the rounding error and the state revenue numbers are less than 10 percent [of the Step Up plan], why would we go to the mattresses?
The only answer I can find is that it’s not about money, it’s about dominance. In the end, this highly technical debate is at least as much about emotions and politics as it is about revenue and policy.
The compromise neither side would embrace earlier this month is obvious. They should soothe the consciences of the ideologues in both parties and the egos of the oil barons by adopting the rest of the Step Up revenue package but increase the GPT to 4.5% to split the difference between the parties’ positions. I’d suggest dedicating the $35 million from the extra 0.5% to increase state worker salaries, which are also desperately low.
Yes, teachers and state workers deserve MUCH more. But this is about COMPROMISE from ALL sides to get over that ludicrous 75% supermajority hurdle. We must stop the bleeding and bind our state’s self-inflicted wounds. It is past time for our legislators from both parties to get off their high horses and shake hands on a compromise to save our schools. That should be the Oklahoma standard.
The failure of our state legislators to reach a compromise has dire consequences for our schoolchildren and the state’s most vulnerable citizens: the poor and the elderly who depend on state services. I ask the legislators who have been voting no, and the partisans who support them, to think about that.
What Good am I
What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?
What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?
What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?
What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?
What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?
I’ve read that about 40% of state workers now qualify for food stamps, which is abominable.
Meanwhile, the grim state of our public schools is illustrated below:
Enough is enough, legislators. You need to embrace the obvious compromise and GET THIS DONE. If you do not, I guarantee you that parents and teachers will be shutting down the schools across our state this April until you do. We shall wait no longer.
UPDATE: In April Bartlesville schools, and many others statewide, were suspended by a teacher walkout for 8 school days. The threat of the walkout helped prompt the legislature to pass the largest teacher pay increase in state history, ranging from about $5,000-$8,000. During the walkout, another $40 million or so in future funding was earmarked for education. Although Oklahoma teachers will now have a regionally competitive salary for the first time in my career, per pupil funding remains dead last in the region. The state will need to invest even more in its public schools to reduce class sizes and restore lost course electives, etc.