OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, responded Thursday to the claim by Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, that House Democrats want to finance a teacher pay raise with a tax increase
“There is one thing Senator Marlatt and I can agree on,” Kouplen said, “and that is, as he stated, ‘Our teacher shortage has reached a crisis point, and our teacher salaries continue to fall further behind those of our regional competitors.’”
Oklahoma ranks 48th in the nation in teacher pay, and dead last in the region – an average of 9% lower than salaries paid in surrounding states.
“When did that happen?” Kouplen continued. “Did it occur just recently? Or could the senator’s statement have been made two years ago when more than 30,000 people came to the Capitol to express their concerns for education, asking the Legislature to not cut income taxes or gross production taxes and fund education?”
The senator’s claim that any member of the House Democratic Caucus proposes a tax hike “is laughable,” Kouplen said. “The senator knows that because of State Question 640, the likelihood of any tax hike in Oklahoma is virtually nil,” Kouplen said.
“However, SQ 640 did not prevent fee increases that everyone in Oklahoma – from businesses to John Q. Public getting a driver’s license – will tell you have skyrocketed.
“Requesting a delay or halt to an income-tax cut that was enacted when Oklahoma supposedly had the third-strongest economy in the U.S. is not a tax increase. If the senator thinks that maintaining the income-tax rate at the existing level is equivalent to a tax increase, he took a different math class than I did.
“Even when the economy was strong the Republicans were cutting state programs and budgets,” Kouplen recalled.
“The real question is how do we deal with this crisis? The term ‘crisis’ to me means immediate. So let’s examine Senator Marlatt’s proposal:
- It will be five months before the Legislature is back in session next February.
- We face a possible billion-dollar shortfall in the state budget next year.
- The next general election is 14 months away.
- It would be 2017 before any pay increase or money for education was possible under his proposal.
“So, would you wait that long to deal with a crisis? That sounds like the captain of the Titanic rearranging the deck chairs after they hit the iceberg. Instead, I suggest the senator ask the governor to call a special session of the Legislature to deal with this crisis.
“And while we’re debating whether to rob the constitutionally protected Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund to finance a teacher pay raise – and you can be assured that that would be just the first of numerous raids on TSET funds – let’s deal with other critical issues, too, like the Corrections Department, health care, county roads and bridges, the Department of Human Services, and mental health, just to name a few. I’m sure those folks are busy rearranging their deck chairs, as well.”
- Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman, speaking to the Tulsa Republican Club last Friday, said Oklahoma is “one lawsuit away” from another federal takeover of its prison system. (State prisons were under federal supervision for 11 years, 1974-84.) Oklahoma prisons are at 116% of capacity but staffed at only 60% “of where they should be,” Hickman said.
- Oklahoma’s incarceration rate of 654 per 100,000 residents compares to a national rate of 480 per 100,000, and Oklahoma imprisons women at the highest rate in the country, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Oklahoma’s $53.01 in per-capita expenditures on mental health services is the 46th lowest in the nation, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation calculates.
- The obesity rate in Oklahoma is the sixth-worst in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- Although tobacco use in Oklahoma has declined, 23.7% of the adults in this state – almost one of every four – used tobacco products in 2013. Research showed that 22.7% of Oklahoma high-school students – more than one of every five – used some tobacco product in 2013, and almost 10% of all Oklahoma middle-school students used a tobacco product that year.
- The Oklahoma State School Boards Association said its latest survey indicated that even though 600 teaching positions were eliminated since the 2014-15 school year, school districts report 1,000 teaching vacancies remain.
- A $1,500 per year across-the-board pay raise for Oklahoma’s 40,000+ public school teachers would cost approximately $65 million. Interest earnings from the TSET corpus, certified earlier this month, totaled $42.8 million.
- The reduction in the state income tax from 5.25% to 5% on Jan. 1, 2016, will lower state revenues by $400 million over the next three years, the Oklahoma Tax Commission estimates.
- Oklahoma’s combined local and state tax burden is the fifth-lowest in the nation (Tax Foundation).
- Oklahoma’s corporate tax burden is the seventh-lowest in the nation, and Oklahoma’s property tax burden is 11th-lowest in the nation (Oklahoma Department of Commerce).
(Representative Kouplen can be reached through his Capitol office at 405.557.7306.)