House vote on Step Up bills could be Mon­day

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY RANDY EL­LIS Staff Writer rel­lis@ok­la­homan.com

Show­down votes are ex­pected Mon­day af­ter­noon on the state House floor on a se­ries of tax in­crease and gov­ern­ment re­struc­tur­ing mea­sures backed by Step Up Ok­la­homa.

House mem­bers also may be asked to vote on pro­posed $5,000 pay in­creases for teach­ers.

How­ever, the teacher pay raise vote will only take place if House mem­bers first pass House Bill 1033XX, which would in­crease taxes on to­bacco, gaso­line, diesel fuel, wind en­ergy, and oil and gas gross pro­duc­tion, said House Ma­jor­ity Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Ok­la­homa City. (The XX be­hind the

bill num­ber in­di­cates it is a bill from 2017’s sec­ond spe­cial ses­sion.)

Echols said it would be use­less to vote on a teacher pay raise bill with­out first pass­ing the tax in­creases, be­cause the state wouldn’t have the money to fund them.

About 1,000 teach­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tors and par­ents of school­child­ren are ex­pected to show up at the state Capitol on Mon­day morn­ing for a hastily or­ga­nized rally in sup­port of the Step Up Ok­la­homa plan, said Doug Folks, spokesman for the Ok­la­homa Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

Low teacher pay has been a hot is­sue in Ok­la­homa for sev­eral years, with re­ports of teach­ers leav­ing the state for higher pay­ing jobs else­where and schools hav­ing trou­ble fill­ing po­si­tions.

Folks said some teach­ers will take per­sonal leave days, while other schools may send small del­e­ga­tions to rep­re­sent them. There are re­ports that some schools are hav­ing dif­fi­culty find­ing sub­sti­tutes on short no­tice, which could limit the size of the rally, he said.

Ok­la­homa is in the midst of a ma­jor bud­get cri­sis with the Depart­ment of Men­tal Health and Sub­stance Abuse Ser­vices, Ok­la­homa Health Care Au­thor­ity and the Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices ex­pected to run out of money two months shy of the new bud­get year un­less law­mak­ers find sup­ple­men­tal cash or quickly en­act bud­get cuts.

Step Up Ok­la­homa, a coali­tion of Ok­la­homa busi­ness and civic lead­ers, came up with its pack­age of pro­posed tax in­creases and law changes in an ef­fort to fill the bud­get hole, pro­vide money for teacher pay raises and in­sti­tute greater gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity.

The House vote on the coali­tion-backed tax in­crease bill is ex­pected to be close, with a lot of be­hind-the-scenes dis­cus­sions be­tween House mem­bers tak­ing place over the week­end,Echols said.

“I’m op­ti­mistic,” said state Rep. Kevin Wal­lace, chair­man of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions and Bud­get Com­mit­tee.

Wal­lace, R-Well­ston, said Repub­li­can sup­port for the bill has grown be­cause many Ok­la­homa in­dus­try lead­ers have come out in sup­port of it. He be­lieves it stands a good chance of pass­ing if as many Democrats will vote in fa­vor of it as voted to sup­port a tax rev­enue mea­sure that failed late last year.

The House is sched­uled to go into ses­sion at 1:30 p.m. Mon­day, and Ok­la­homans should find out quickly whether House mem­bers are go­ing to em­brace Step Up Ok­la­homa’s pack­age of pro­pos­als.

HB 1033XX is con­sid­ered the most cru­cial of all the bills since it is pro­jected to pro­duce the lion’s share of new rev­enue — about $581 mil­lion a year.

It is also con­sid­ered the most dif­fi­cult to pass, since Ok­la­homa re­quires a three-fourths ma­jor­ity vote to pass tax in­creases. Other bills can be passed with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity.

The bill calls for an ad­di­tional $1.50 per pack tax on ci­garettes, rais­ing the tax on gaso­line and diesel fuel by 6 cents a gal­lon, plac­ing a $1 per megawatt hour tax on wind en­ergy gen­er­a­tion, and rais­ing the ini­tial gross pro­duc­tion tax on oil and nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion from 2 per­cent to 4 per­cent. It also calls for tax­ing lit­tle cigars the same as ci­garettes and plac­ing an ad­di­tional 10 per­cent tax on chew­ing to­bacco.

Echols said if the bill passes, the House will likely next take up HB 1030XX, which calls for giv­ing teach­ers a $5,000 pay raise.

Also slated for a quick vote would be HB 1029XX, which calls for creat­ing an Of­fice of Ac­count­abil­ity within the Leg­isla­tive Ser­vices Bu­reau.

The lat­ter bill seeks to sat­isfy Ok­la­homans who in­sist greater scru­tiny should be given to how state agen­cies are spend­ing their money be­fore in­creas­ing their fund­ing.

Af­ter those votes, the House would go on to con­sider the rest of the 11 bills that are con­sid­ered part of the Step Up Ok­la­homa agenda, Echols said.

The House agenda will have to be reshuf­fled if HB1033XX fails, which would re­sult in many of the other votes likely not hap­pen­ing Mon­day, he said.

One of the Step Up Ok­la­homa bills that has un­der­gone ma­jor re­vi­sions in the leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee process is HB1037XX, which­would makechanges in Ok­la­homa’s in­di­vid­ual in­come tax laws.

The rewrit­ten bill would re­in­sti­tute the earned in­come tax credit, which ben­e­fits low in­come peo­ple, and lower the Ok­la­homa stan­dard de­duc­tion for fil­ers whose ad­justed gross in­comes are above cer­tain lev­els.

For sin­gle in­di­vid­u­als or mar­ried in­di­vid­u­als who file sep­a­rately, the state stan­dard de­duc­tion would be low­ered from $6,350 to $5,250 if their fed­eral ad­justed gross in­comes are above $25,000.

For mar­ried in­di­vid­u­als who file jointly, the state stan­dard de­duc­tion would be low­ered from $12,700 to $10,500 if their fed­eral ad­justed gross in­comes are above $50,000.

And for heads of house­holds, their stan­dard de­duc­tion would be low­ered from $9,350 to $7,700 if their fed­eral ad­justed gross in­comes are above $37,500.

Pro­vi­sions in the bill would not be­come ef­fec­tive un­less House Bill 2403 also is en­acted. That bill, which has al­ready passed the House and is pend­ing in the Se­nate, would place a $17,000 cap on item­ized de­duc­tions, but ex­empt char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions from that cap.

Law­mak­ers scrapped a lengthy list of other pro­posed changes in the state’s in­come tax laws that would have elim­i­nated nu­mer­ous de­duc­tions.

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