OKLAHOMA CITY – State Senator Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, has proposed a three phase plan aimed at providing pay raises for state teachers and state employees.
“As a former teacher with close to two decades of experience in Oklahoma public school classrooms, I appreciate the frustration of our instructors,” Bergstrom said. “In the time since I took office in November 2016, one of the top priorities in my Republican Senate Caucus has been finding a way to give Oklahoma teachers a pay raise. Unfortunately, the budget hole and the constitutional requirement for 75 percent approval in both chambers have hampered our efforts. In the last several months, we have run through a special session, are still in a second special session and are nearly halfway through another regular session and there is still no pay raise. The planned teacher walkout looming in a few weeks adds yet another wrinkle to the situation.”
According to Bergstrom, three obstacles have kept the legislature from completing this task - insufficient revenue, unreasonable expectations and political maneuvering.
“My proposal deals with the first two issues. Hopefully, legislators choosing to put the best interests of the citizens of Oklahoma, our teachers and our students ahead of political desires will resolve the third,” Bergstrom said.
His proposal provides for a $6,000 teacher pay raise over three years, a $2,500 state employee pay raise for those currently making less than $50,000 over three years, and restoration of state aid formula funding for education in 2019. The revenue to pay for this phase only requires simple majority votes in both chambers. Among the revenue measures funding the first year are:
• Capital Gains Tax Restoration – Senate Bill 1086 (Sen. Rader), expected to generate $50 million in year one, and $108 million thereafter.
• Casino Ball & Dice – Senate Bill 1195 (Sen. McCortney), expected to generate $23 million; and
• Medicaid Work Requirement – Senate Bill 1030 (Sen. Brecheen), anticipated to generate $84 million.
The revenue to pay for the second and third phases of the plan is dependent upon new revenue bills to be approved this year, either in the current session by the legislature or by a vote of the people in November. Those measures include a $1.00 increase on cigarette taxes and increased levy on cigars, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes. It also includes a 5 percent gross production tax on all wells currently at two percent, all new wells, and raising all wells to seven percent after the initial 36 months. Each of these forms of revenue requires a 75 percent vote in both chambers. Bergstrom wants each to be a separate vote during the current legislative session. Under the proposal, any of these revenue measures not approved by the legislature would be passed on to a vote of the people in November.
“It is time for the legislature to move forward with a common sense approach that raises teacher salaries well above the regional average while doing so in a way that is realistic and does not financially undercut the state’s budget in future years,” said Bergstrom.