(Oklahoma City) – Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield said Friday that the first priority for 51st Oklahoma Legislature next year should be to provide a supplemental appropriation to help public schools cover the cost of social security taxes and benefits associated with the $3,000 pay raise given to state teachers.
Crutchfield, D-Ardmore, said school districts across the state need an additional $21 million to cover those costs, which include additional the employer portion of FICA taxes and districts’ contributions to teacher retirement. Lawmakers appropriated $136 million to fund the $3,000 pay raise during a special session in mid-June.
“In the Senate we tried to convince the Republican leadership in the House that we needed the additional funds for schools, but they refused to budge and opted instead to leave revenue un-appropriated,” Crutchfield said. “As a result of the unwillingness of the House to address this issue, many districts are scrambling to cover the additional costs associated with the $3,000 teacher pay raise. Providing additional monies when the next regular session convenes will ease the pressure.”
Crutchfield said funds to cover the supplemental appropriation should be available from the so-called spillover when the state’s Rainy Day Fund is filled to its Constitutional capacity.
He explained that through the first 11 months of Fiscal Year 2006 state revenues have exceeded official projections by more than $486 million. Only $34.4 million of that can be added to the Rainy Day Fund. Lawmakers appropriated a majority of the spillover funds during the special session, but June collections have still not been announced. It is expected, Crutchfield said, that $75 million to $100 million in additional spillover was collected in June making that money available for the Legislature to appropriate to fill needs like the one facing school districts.
“The Senate tried to address this issue during special session, but House Republican leaders were so focused on providing tax cuts for the wealthy that they wouldn’t listen. I suspect over the next several months, while they are at home in their districts, they’ll come to understand the need for additional funds and will be willing to join us in providing a supplemental appropriation for our schools as our first item of business next February,” Crutchfield said.