Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed two bills last week increasing education funding by roughly $40 million.
The first bill my colleagues and I approved was House Bill 1019XX. Basically, this removes a loophole in the tax structure and will allow the collection and remittance of sales tax from out-of-state, third-party vendors who contract with organizations such as Amazon to sell products in Oklahoma. This should amount to about $20.5 million in revenue each year, and $19.5 million of that will go to education funding. I was proud to support this bill because it helps provide marketplace fairness for our brick-and-mortar retailers who have invested so many resources in our state.
Second, the Senate finally passed House Bill 3375, which has become known as the “ball and dice” gaming bill. This legislation changes casino gambling a bit, and estimates project revenue to be around $22 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
Together, these two measures replace the money that was lost when we repealed the $5 per room, per night hotel/motel fee. That means there is no hole in the education budget, as some people have said.
As a reminder, the governor has signed House Bill 3705. This education funding bill provides common education with $2.9 billion for Fiscal Year 2019. That’s a roughly $500 million (or 19 percent) increase over what K-12 saw in Fiscal Year 2018. This includes money for textbooks, increased state aid funding, allocations for health benefits and salaries and raises for support staff.
The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) set out a demand in March. The organization asked for a $10,000 raise over the course of three years ($6,000 the first year) and for lawmakers to restore $200 million in education funding over three years (roughly $75 million per year). Lawmakers have given teachers an average $6,100 raise for the upcoming year, and we’ve provided about $70 million in increased funding for education.
OEA has also asked for a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees and a $7,500 raise for state employees. These are expensive asks — and they’re ones that should be talked about extensively. The Legislature enacted a tiered state employee raise, which takes effect July 1, and we passed a stipend for retirees. Is it everything the OEA demanded? No. But it is a lot of what the organization has asked for.
In order to set Oklahoma on a sure path forward, we have to take measured steps. Shoving tax increase after tax increase through the legislative process would be devastating to our economy. Looking for efficiencies and rooting out waste (like we saw at the state Department of Health) will help us achieve long-term growth that doesn’t hinder the average Oklahoman.
As always, you know how to reach me. I’m at Rick.West@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7413. Thanks, and may God bless you and our great state.
Rick West represents District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. To participate in the Times Record's Community Matters series, email Executive Editor Mardi Taylor, email@example.com.