Much has been said about University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s proposal for a new, statewide, “one-cent” sales tax. A portion of proceeds from the tax would provide $5,000 pay raises for every public school teacher in the state.
President Boren is leading a coalition that supports Initiative Petition 403, the “penny tax” for teacher pay. The Oklahoma’s Children — Our Future coalition wants to place the measure on next November’s ballot.
Earlier this year, a statewide survey indicated more than 97 percent of likely Oklahoma voters believe teacher salaries should be increased. Few issues enjoy such consensus.
Still, as Oklahomans consider President Boren’s proposal, here are four things to keep in mind.
The Boren proposal is a textbook example of logrolling
“Logrolling” is when you take an issue people generally like, such as a teacher pay raise, and roll it up with something people don’t necessarily like, such as a tax increase. To get the teacher pay raise, voters are forced to go along with paying higher taxes.
Our organization, OCPA Impact, advocates for Oklahoma taxpayers on issues of job growth, business growth and individual opportunity.
On Nov. 12, we filed a challenge with the Oklahoma Supreme Court against Initiative Petition 403 for violating our state Constitution’s single-subject rule, which is intended to prevent logrolling.
The ballot petition contains at least four distinct subjects. The first three are:
- the teacher pay raise;
- more than $200 million for other areas, including higher education (which is in a separate section of the Oklahoma Constitution than common education);
- and the sales tax increase.
The fourth subject is a dramatic restructuring of our state government’s appropriations process that would significantly restrict the “power of the purse” held by the Legislature — the branch of government most representative of Oklahoma’s diverse makeup.
The State Board of Equalization, in the executive branch, would be able to instruct the Legislature on how much money to appropriate to education. If legislators didn’t comply, they would be prohibited from appropriating funds to any state agencies and might have to reduce funds for Medicaid (SoonerCare), mental health, infrastructure and other services.
Nearly half the money would not go to teacher salaries
Just under 60 percent of the money from the new tax could be used to fund the $5,000 teacher pay raise. The remaining 40 percent would go elsewhere.
Of the 40 percent that would be constitutionally prohibited from going to teacher salaries, more than $100 million would go to higher education.
“Boren launches campaign to fund education through tax” by William W. Savage III
If adopted, Oklahomans will pay the nation’s highest average sales tax burden
Today, Oklahoma’s state sales tax rate is 4.5 percent. The proposed Boren tax would increase the state rate by 22 percent.
When paired with county and municipal sales taxes, plus the current state sales tax, the Boren tax increase would give Oklahoma the highest average total state-and-local sales tax burden — 9.7 percent — of any state in the U.S.
Oklahoma already inflicts the sixth-highest average total sales tax burden nationwide, according to TaxFoundation.org. Many worry that increasing the sales tax further will place an undue burden on low- and middle-income families, single parents, veterans and senior citizens.
Funding to increase teacher pay and hire more teachers can be found by trimming spending
President Boren’s ballot petition isn’t the only proposal to fund teacher pay raises.
The day OCPA Impact challenged the Boren petition’s constitutionality, we also introduced an alternative action plan to provide funding for $5,000 average pay raises for all 42,027 current teachers and for hiring 1,000 additional teachers — without a tax increase. The total cost would be about $284.5 million.
Our proposal would involve eliminating portions of more than $617 million in identified inefficient or nonessential state government spending.
One example is to adopt best practices, already utilized by many county and municipal governments in Oklahoma, to provide coverage for intensive medical procedures for state employees. Conservative estimates suggests this would save $42 million a year, which equals $5,000 pay raises for 8,400 teachers.
Another example is to unload the Italian monastery, in Tuscany, for which the University of Oklahoma is reported to have spent $20 million to purchase and renovate.
We have listed additional cost-savings options on our website. Some are one-time asset sales, while others are systemic reforms to produce long-term savings.
Oklahoma teachers deserve a raise. But voters, taxpayers, families — and teachers — should know there’s a lot more in President Boren’s ballot petition than just a “penny” tax increase and a teacher pay raise.