Sen. Bryce Marlatt today responded to House Democrats who criticized his plan to pursue an across the board pay increase for teachers. Rep. Steve Kouplen recently said Republicans should postpone or halt a scheduled tax break for Oklahomans if they truly cared about education and teacher pay.
Predictably, House Democrats responded to my proposal to fund a teacher pay increase with their favorite idea for funding any state initiative raise taxes, said Marlatt, R-Woodward. Rather than looking at our budget to determine where we might have an imbalance or a need for reprioritization, they would prefer to simply take it from the taxpayers. Oklahomans have roundly rejected this approach to governance, and expect their Legislature to govern with greater efficiency and an appreciation for their tax contributions.
Marlatt said a more fiscally responsible approach would take a holistic examination of the state budget to identify what funding might be redirected to fund a much-needed teacher pay raise.
A tax increase in an uncertain economic environment would worsen conditions and make day-to-day life more difficult for working Oklahomans, Marlatt said. In addition, halting the income tax reduction would not produce a revenue impact sufficient to fund a meaningful teacher pay raise. A more thoughtful approach would be to examine state monies and identify funding that could be better spent on a teacher pay increase, which is exactly what I propose to do in introducing a ballot initiative. This money does not belong to politicians, it belongs to Oklahomans, and we should give them the option to determine its best use.
Marlatt said utilizing monies from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Fund, which has a balance of nearly $1 billion, would not hinder or erase the progress made in curbing smoking in Oklahoma. Smoking rates have reached an all-time low in the state, he noted.
If Oklahoma taxpayers are given the option, I am confident they will conclude that a teacher pay raise is the best possible use for these funds right now, Marlatt said. Utilizing these funds to pay for a teacher pay increase is a politically feasible, workable plan that Oklahomans would be willing to support. Our teacher shortage has reached a crisis point, and our teacher salaries continue to fall further behind those of our regional competitors. Despite the criticisms of Oklahoma Democrats, I have offered the only plan that shows where in state government we have the money to fund a teacher pay raise. In addition, I think most Oklahomans would agree that my proposal is preferable to an income tax hike in a time of economic uncertainty.