House vote on Step Up bills could be Monday
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.