An Oklahoma City state senator said he has a “moral obligation” to bring forward a complicated bundle of bills to give teachers a $10,000 within the next five years, without raising taxes.
“We have to do this. We have to increase teacher pay and it's going to be complex. It's not a one bill solution,” Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) said Friday.
Holt sent out a release of six bills and resolutions that outlined a complex plan. The package of legislation hopes to give teachers a raise. It would cost the state $400 million. Holt's plans to find half the amount in reforming tax breaks, reductions, exemptions and deductions.
There are nearly $2 billion in tax breaks that are draining money from state coffers and Holt said he’s only asking for small portion of that money to be returned to state funds. Those tax changes would need to be voted on by Oklahomans on the November ballot.
The other $200 million comes from any extra revenue the state might garner starting in the next fiscal year, big task under the looming threat of an estimated $900.8 million budget deficit.
“Yeah, I get that we're in a billion dollar shortfall this year. So we're not going to have a teacher pay raise this year. But I've worked out a plan to where you can get the $10,000 within five years.”
Holt also wants to consolidate school districts as a cost saving measure; bringing the total down to 200. Oklahoma has 520 school districts currently. Any saving in administrative costs, Holt says, would go to teacher pay.
The consolidation wouldn't be up for a straight legislative vote until 2020, but would also be on the November ballot for voters to decide on.
“This has so many moving pieces. What if one piece passes and one piece doesn’t?” Alicia Priest asked. “There are no guarantees and there are no guarantees that once it gets into the legislature that there won't be tweaks and changes.”
When asked if the measures were partially for political cover for the Republicans, Holt laughed and said no. He said he his package has been getting support from both his party and Democrats.
“This crisis is only beginning and we can't just sit here and have no plan,” Holt said.
The package of bills is up against a much talked about one-cent sales tax backed by OU president David Boren. The sales tax increase was just approved to move forward to a ballot vote by the state supreme court after challenges against its constitutionality. That increase would provide $615 million in extra funds to give teachers a $5,000 raise and is believed to have more immediate effects.
“We started the year 1,000 teachers short. Our teachers and support professionals haven't had a raise since 2008. Our kids deserve something to happen now not 2020,” Priest said.
The bills in Holt’s package haven’t been assigned to committees yet. The legislative session starts Feb. 1.