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Teachers rallied at the Oklahoma Capitol beginning Monday, April 2, 2018, to advocate for additional education funding. (Andrew Winningham)
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On the fifth day of a teacher walkout that has stuffed the Capitol with people applying pressure to lawmakers, the Oklahoma State Senate passed two measures intended to generate revenue beyond the roughly $400 million already passed for the state’s education budget next fiscal year.

But one of the bills could not be certified as anything more than having a “positive” impact on state revenues, and it was opposed by the two most powerful members of the Senate: President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus) and Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat (R-OKC).

Teachers and the Oklahoma Education Association had called for the passage of HB 3375, which would allow for “ball and dice” gambling at state-sanctioned casinos, if Gov. Mary Fallin signs it. It passed 29-16. The emergency clause, however, failed, meaning the bill would not become law until Nov. 1 if signed by Fallin.

During debate, Treat argued that passing the “ball and dice” bill would weaken Oklahoma’s position for potential 2020 renegotiation of its gaming compacts with tribes.

“I rise today to say that I’m very dissatisfied with the way the executive branch has negotiated these compacts,” Treat said. “I personally feel that the state has been shorted. If I were in another body representing the tribal interests, I would fight viciously to maintain and make sure the compacts were never touched.”

Treat and other senators discussed the exclusivity fees that Oklahoma receives for granting gaming rights to tribes, with some arguing that tribes pay far higher rates in other states. Treat emphasized that the potential $22 million in new revenue from adding traditional roulette and craps tables in casinos cannot be spent for Fiscal Year 2019.

“The good senator has never indicated that the budget for FY 19 will increase if this bill passes,” Treat said of bill author Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada). “Make no mistake, this is an expansion of gaming.”

While some members debated against the bill over their concerns for the impacts of additional gambling, others disagreed.

“We are not expanding gaming,” said Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okmulgee). “I encourage you to vote in favor of this measure today.”

McCortney admitted that the “ball and dice” could only help with education funding in future years.

“It does not (create revenue for next fiscal year),” McCortney said. “It is not ‘bookable,’ as we say inside this building, so we cannot use this money to budget, but I have had many many many meetings with many many many constituents this week, most of whom are teachers, and one of the questions they asked me is, ‘Do we need to be worried about another revenue failure?'”

A series of amendments to raise the state’s percentage of exclusivity fees for such table games were filed by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore), but none were heard. In debate, Sykes alluded to the potential for Oklahoma to renegotiate its gaming compacts with tribes in 2020.

“In my private life, I am paid to negotiate. I would not bring this deal to one of my clients without expecting to be fired,” Sykes said. “This is a horrible deal for the state of Oklahoma. It is a great deal for the tribes.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin, whose office issued an unusual “media advisory” prior to debate on the “ball and dice” bill.

“When the governor’s office receives the bills being heard today in the Senate, the governor will review them with her staff,” the statement read. “This is her usual practice to check the language of the final version, and to ensure the bills satisfy legal and constitutional requirements.”

Amazon third-party sales

The Senate also passed HB 1019XX and sent that to Fallin as well. The bill establishes the ability for the state of Oklahoma to collect sales tax from purchases made from third-party Amazon.com sellers.

Thompson presented the Amazon bill and explained why he supported it for local communities, as well as raising money for education.

“If you go down to the local dress shop or men’s store and you buy a suit in the state of Oklahoma, you pay sales tax on it,” Thompson said. “What has happened is, instead of folks doing that and support local business, they find an online new suit or an online dress. And that third-party vendor, because they’re out of state, has not been collecting sales tax on that.

“So what has happened is in small towns where I’m from or large towns, we actually have some of our citizens going out to dress shops and suit (shops), trying on dresses and suits, trying them on, making sure they have the right size and then going home and ordering them online.”

Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) attempted to amend Thompson’s third-party sales tax bill. His amendment would have removed that language entirely and replaced it with a repeal of the refundability of existing tax credit obligations for wind power. He said that total could be $500 million to $700 million over the next 10 years.

“That industry this year will not pay a dime in income taxes. That industry will receive a check in the mail of $70 million in collected taxpayer monies,” Brecheen said. “I think there’s a fairness argument.”

After about 90 minutes of discussion about Brecheen’s amendment, it failed 8-36. He also offered a second amendment to the bill that would cap the wind power tax credit payouts at $35 million. That amendment also failed 6-37.

Thompson’s original bill — to levy sales tax collection on third-party Amazon merchants — passed 42-2.

Repeal of ‘hotel-motel’ tax

Senators also sent HB 1012XX to Fallin. The bill repeals the $5-per-room hotel-motel tax that was passed as part of HB 1010XX last week. The bill eliminates about $46 million in estimated funding.

“Educators don’t care where the money comes from to give them relief,” Sen. J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso) said. “All I know is if we are going to take away a certain amount of money (…) we need to restore that amount of money. (…) We’re close, but we’re not there. So I urge senators to vote ‘No.'”

HB 1012XX passed 42-3.

Minutes after the passage of that bill, however, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association said she is requesting that Fallin veto HB 1012XX’s tax repeal.

“We are calling for the governor to veto that repeal and for the House to put capital gains tax on and to pass that,” Alicia Priest said. “Those things will allow for the walkout to end.”

Earlier Friday afternoon, Oklahoma City Public Schools announced that it would remain closed Monday, April 9, as it has all week:

With the statewide teacher walkout continuing, district leaders have decided to cancel classes for OKCPS again on Monday, April 9, 2018. Once again, school buildings will be closed to students and families. This will activate our last snow day and make the last day of school May 31. Missed instruction beyond Day 6, would be made up by increasing the minutes of future instructional days, or by adding additional days at the end of the current instructional calendar. We will provide more details on this plan if/when it becomes necessary.

NewsOK.com’s Tim Willert reported Friday that Edmond Public Schools and Norman Public Schools will also be closed Monday.

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