Step Up pro­posal of­fers way for­ward

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION -

OK­LA­HOMANS could find out as soon as Mon­day whether law­mak­ers are will­ing to pro­vide teach­ers a pay raise and in­crease rev­enue streams for state gov­ern­ment. Ap­prov­ing bills by the Step Up Ok­la­homa coali­tion would do that.

The coali­tion, formed in De­cem­ber by busi­ness and civic lead­ers, has grown to in­clude dozens of or­ga­ni­za­tions across Ok­la­homa that are frus­trated by years­long bud­get short­falls that have ham­pered the state’s ef­forts to climb out of the lower end of so many na­tional rank­ings.

If all were ap­proved — they re­ceived com­mit­tee ap­proval last week— the Step Up mea­sures would in­ject hun­dreds of mil­lions into the trea­sury, and pro­vide im­por­tant re­forms. Among the lat­ter is a bill to cre­ate an Of­fice of Ac­count­abil­ity, and one to let the gover­nor ap­point the heads of seven state agen­cies while mak­ing their cur­rent gov­ern­ing boards ad­vi­sory.

On the rev­enue side, one bill would in­crease the to­bacco tax by $1.50 per pack, which would help to fur­ther drive down Ok­la­homa’s smok­ing rate and keep many young peo­ple from tak­ing up smok­ing in the first place. Presently 19.6 per­cent of adults in Ok­la­homa smoke, but that still lags the na­tional av­er­age of 17.1 per­cent.

The same bill would in­crease the price of diesel fuel and gaso­line by 6 cents per gal­lon and bring Ok­la­homa’s fuel tax rate more in line with sur­round­ing states; it would in­crease the gross pro­duc­tion tax on all wells from 2 per­cent to 4 per­cent, some­thing Democrats have wanted for a long time; and would place a $1-per­me­gawatt hour tax on wind pro­duc­tion.

Step Up Ok­la­homa also is seek­ing to in­crease in­come tax pay­ments by re­duc­ing the stan­dard de­duc­tion and cap­ping item­ized de­duc­tions.

Rev­enue-rais­ing bills must originate in the House and re­ceive 75 per­cent ap­proval from law­mak­ers. That means 76 votes are needed in the 101-mem­ber House to send most of th­ese pro­pos­als to the Se­nate. Repub­li­cans hold 72 seats, Democrats 28 (there is one va­cancy). Bi­par­ti­san­ship is nec­es­sary for this ef­fort to suc­ceed, but it has been sorely lack­ing. That can­not con­tinue.

Mem­bers might be in­ter­ested in the re­sults of a re­cent Soon­erPoll, com­mis­sioned by the Step Up Ok­la­homa coali­tion. The sur­vey of likely vot­ers, taken Jan. 30 through Feb. 5, showed 69 per­cent sup­port the goals and some el­e­ments of the Step Up Plan.

The poll’s founder, Bill Sha­pard, said sim­i­lar ques­tion­ing six months ago likely would not have pro­duced such broad-based sup­port. Now, “I think the vot­ers are hun­gry for a so­lu­tion to this bud­get im­passe … and they see this as a so­lu­tion that will get us there,” Sha­pard said.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Mike Schulz said re­cently his col­leagues didn’t run by say­ing they wanted to raise taxes, but “we’re here and we un­der­stand the prob­lem in re­cur­ring rev­enue and we’re here to solve the prob­lem.” House Speaker Charles McCall has said the Step Up plan “is very im­por­tant to the state of Ok­la­homa” be­cause of the po­ten­tial fund­ing cer­tainty it pro­vides. Gov. Mary Fallin said in her State of the State speech that Ok­la­homa is “at a cross­roads.”

A path­way for­ward has been pre­sented, and should be taken.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.