Budget & Tax, Education

Raise Teacher Pay Without Raising Taxes

January 1, 2017

Dave Bond

By Dave Bond

On November 8, more than 59 percent of Oklahoma voters opted not to approve State Question 779, the so-called “penny tax for education.”

First proposed more than a year ago by University of Oklahoma President David Boren, SQ 779 would have increased the permanent sales tax burden on working Oklahoma families to the highest of any state in the nation.

The SQ 779 tax money would have been used to fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise and lots of additional spending.

Some interpret SQ 779’s defeat to mean Oklahomans don’t value quality teachers. This certainly isn’t the case.

Let’s be clear: With SQ 779’s defeat, teacher pay raises didn’t fail. A massive tax increase failed.

During the statewide discussion on SQ 779, three strikes against the proposal took shape in the minds of voters.
To many, the first strike was obvious from the beginning: A tax increase is unnecessary.

Most Oklahomans know they’re already paying enough state and local taxes to fund core priorities, including classroom education.

A tax increase lets government bureaucrats off the hook from having to be as efficient with existing resources as Oklahoma families must be.

The second strike took hold as voters realized that SQ 779 truly would have forced all Oklahomans, regardless of income, to pay the highest permanent, combined state-and-local sales tax rate in the U.S. In many communities, sales taxes would have reached double digits.

The third strike, however, was the most shocking: Less than half of the SQ 779 tax money would have been guaranteed to go toward salary increases or other compensation for classroom teachers.

Still, SQ 779’s defeat represents only a partial victory. Working families have been shielded from higher taxes, but the need for a classroom teacher pay raise remains.

Teachers will receive a pay raise in the relatively near future. Either the state Legislature will fund it by shifting resources away from inefficient or nonessential areas of state government spending, or the funds will come from a tax increase on working Oklahomans.

If the Legislature fails, Oklahomans could face another SQ 779-style ballot question. Next time, though, proponents won’t repeat the mistakes of rolling up teacher pay raises with other, less desirable spending, or raising anyone’s tax rate to the highest in the country.

The Legislature’s objective must be to provide a substantial teacher salary increase without raising taxes. This is very achievable.

The most obvious route is twofold. First, eliminate state taxpayer subsidies for mostly foreign and out-of-state wind energy companies, expected to exceed $200 million next year.

Second, utilize the savings, estimated at more than $100 million annually, via the recent, market-based efficiency reforms at HealthChoice, the health benefits provider for state government employees.

Considering that a $5,000 pay raise for every public school classroom teacher statewide costs $245 million, you have a blueprint with relatively few moving parts.

Oklahoma can’t afford to lose more homegrown talent to other states, whether in teaching or other professions.
With SQ 779’s defeat, Oklahomans have given the Legislature the opportunity to address this urgency without further burdening working Oklahomans.

Dave Bond is CEO of OCPA Impact. Before joining OCPA Impact, Bond served as director of external relations for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He is a past executive director of the Republican State House Committee, the political arm of the Republican caucus of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He also worked with the campaign consulting firm A.H. Strategies and with Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud. Additionally, Bond served in the media and communications divisions of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.