Budget & Tax

Michael Carnuccio | October 30, 2015

Free Market Friday: Raise salaries, not taxes

Michael Carnuccio

To increase teacher salaries, some are proposing to increase the state sales tax rate by 22 percent, from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent. Proponents estimate the proposal would increase taxes on Oklahomans by $615 million, with a portion of the tax dedicated to teacher salary increases and then funding for public higher education and career technology.

Few professions have a more profound and transformational impact on us than teachers. Whether in a public, private or home-school classroom, teachers of pre-K through 12th grade students are worth the compensation they receive and more. The time has come in Oklahoma to raise the salaries of pre-K through 12th grade public school teachers who have earned it and provide them other incentives we provide key professions for recruitment.

Oklahoma can significantly increase compensation for teachers without a 22-percent tax increase, particularly when total per-pupil revenues for Oklahoma’s public schools are at an all-time high. The state can implement a number of cost-savings measures in non-core government spending and non-instructional spending and dedicate that savings to significant salary increases for teachers. Also, given our state’s direct competition with Texas, we must eliminate the personal income tax for classroom teachers in Oklahoma – just like we do for aerospace engineers in Oklahoma.

But for the sake of teachers, students, their families, the most vulnerable among us and future opportunity for all Oklahomans, we should not raise taxes. Recent analysis from the Tax Foundation reveals that the tax increase would catapult Oklahoma to the highest state and local average sales tax rate in the country. The measure would also result in Oklahoma City and Tulsa having some of the highest state and local sales taxes combined in comparison to other high-tax cities across the country. This would be damaging for our Oklahoma economy and further hurt opportunities for Oklahomans to work and provide for their community.

Given the significant non-instructional growth in higher education and the significant growth of compensation dedicated to non-instructional personnel in common education, it’s unjust to present Oklahomans the false choice that needed salary increases can only happen through tax increases. It’s time for state policymakers and local government officials to do what teachers, students and their families have to do every day: prioritize.

It’s time to raise teacher salaries and not taxes.

Michael Carnuccio

Former OCPA President

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