Former Governors Endorse 'Step Up Oklahoma' Plan
OKLAHOMA CITY - One week from the start of the 2018 legislative session and another group is weighing in on the question of how lawmakers should fix the state budget.
The small, but elite group of former governors, has given its endorsement to the Step Up Oklahoma proposal put forward by top business and civic leaders.
The Step Up plan -- a series of revenue and reform measures -- has been presented to legislative leaders, who are tasked with finding revenue to fill a $44 million budget hole for the current fiscal year and a potentially $425 million budget hole for FY 2019.
Numerous groups, including oil and gas associations and the teachers' union, have come out in support of Step Up Oklahoma, and now it has the backing of all five living, ex-governors of Oklahoma: George Nigh (1963, 1979-1987), David Boren (1975-1979), David Walters (1991-1995), Frank Keating (1995-2003), and Brad Henry (2003-2011).
"We just called around and said, 'What do you think?', 'What do you think?'," explained George Nigh, both a former governor and lieutenant governor.
Nigh says he and the other ex-governors quickly came to an agreement to jointly support the Step Up proposal, and also urge greater cooperation among lawmakers.
"Everybody's got to sit down around the table and say 'We gotta fix this place,'" said Frank Keating, the only Republican in the group, "because, if the USS Oklahoma goes down, we all go down together."
The Step Up plan calls for a series of new taxes -- many of those already considered by the Legislature during the special session last year -- and new reforms to make government more efficient.
Proponents say it would bring in $750 million annually in new revenue. which would stabilize the budget and cover the cost of a $5,000 pay raise for teachers.
"And I commend the people," stated Gov. Nigh, "that came together, and said let's work together, let's do things together, let's solve this major problem that we have."
Not everyone believes Step Up Oklahoma's proposed solution is the right solution. Conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity want the reforms, but not the taxes.
"We do not have a problem with how much money we're actually bringing in," said John Tidwell, Director of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans for Prosperity. "The problem is what we're actually spending the money on, and...you can't raise taxes and create smaller government, it doesn't work that way."
But the group of ex-governors say that sort of inflexibility won't solve the real problems facing Oklahoma. They say the way to do that is sit down and compromise, the way that the members of the Step Up group did.
"They didn't agree with all of this," said Keating, "this is a starting point, it's a not an ending point, and that's what politics and debate is all about."