I am extremely pleased with the outcome of the final agreements regarding the budget, and how it will benefit working Oklahomans in every part of the state. I believe the end result will enable us to make key investments in areas such as education and transportation while still enabling us to provide tax reform that will result in relief for middle class families and individuals.
Since early in the session, Senate Leadership has advocated a $3,000 raise for Oklahoma teachers, while the House called for lower amounts. In the agreement reached last week, teachers will indeed receive a $3,000 raise—this is critical as we work to stop the brain drain of Oklahoma’s best and brightest teachers who are being lured away by other states offering higher salaries. The agreement also includes an additional $130 million for Oklahoma’s colleges and universities.
Our state employees are also among the best in the nation, yet they are compensated at far too low a rate. While the plan the House had originally backed left state employees out of the budget mix, the Senate has continued to fight to ensure they would not be forgotten this year. In the end, we were successful in securing a 5 percent pay increase for these men and women. The agreement also includes funding to hire 100 new child welfare workers for the Department of Human Services.
Key to the final agreement of course was ensuring working Oklahomans, not just the rich, benefited from any proposed tax cuts. I believe we accomplished that in this final package, with a plan to reduce the state’s income tax from 6.25 to 5.25 while increasing the state income tax standard deduction to the federal level over the next four years. The agreement also calls for the state’s estate tax to be completely phased out over a period of three years.
The budget is the most important task we as lawmakers are responsible for, because ultimately, it impacts every single man, woman and child in this state. That is why it is so important to consider not just the immediate picture, but how these decisions can impact Oklahoma in the years to come. I believe this final agreement takes both into account.