SQ 779 not the answer to Oklahoma’s education funding challenges
by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
BECAUSE the Legislature failed to do its job this year and provide K-12 teachers with a pay raise, voters are left to decide whether to do that work for them by approving State Question 779 next week. Lawmakers should be ashamed of what their inaction has wrought.
SQ 779, a proposed 1-cent increase in the state sales tax, has only served to divide Oklahomans on an issue they otherwise agree upon — our public school teachers deserve better pay as part of broader education reform. The scope of the question, and the potential downside of a permanent increase in the tax, has city leaders, chambers of commerce, business officials and others urging a “no” vote — even though they all understand that improving and reforming Oklahoma education for our children is a must, and keeping good teachers in the classroom is central to those efforts.
Teacher pay has been a white-hot topic at the Capitol, underscored by large rallies urging lawmakers to do something. Backers of the petition drive for what became SQ 779 announced their intentions in October 2015, and Gov. Mary Fallin’s original budget proposal this year included a plan to fund $3,000 raises for teachers. Yet the Legislature adjourned in May having rejected all pay raise plans, including a proposed increase in the tobacco tax.
The latter may not have been ideal, but it wouldn’t have impacted every Oklahoman. SQ 779 would. This 1-cent increase would place the combined local-state sales tax rate above 11 percent in many cities and towns, which is why the Oklahoma Municipal League opposes it. In Oklahoma City, approval would push the combined local-state tax rate to 9.375 percent, no doubt affecting voters’ willingness to potentially extend the current MAPS sales tax for future projects, or to build a new Oklahoma County jail.