I laud University of Oklahoma President David Boren for his concern for education, but I have some misgivings about his statewide 1-cent sales tax proposal to fund education.
Admittedly, it would raise about $615 million per year and provide funding for much-needed teacher raises, programs to increase reading in early grades, and would help to address our deteriorating high school graduation rates.
Higher Ed would receive money to slow down the increase in college tuition rates. The State Department of Education would receive program money to address early learning opportunities for low-income and at-risk children. There would be money available for our Career Technology schools to increase workforce readiness and industry certifications.
All of these needs are real, and President Boren’s motives are admirable. But we cannot deny the fact that this type of tax increase would impact lower-income people who can ill afford an increase in sales taxes.
Secondly and most importantly, knowing the Legislature the way I do after nine years at the State Capitol, I could see the Legislature reducing funding in each one of these “new money” areas and keeping funding at the present level. Have we forgotten already the lottery fiasco that guaranteed “extra” money for education? We were sold a bill of goods, and many Oklahomans voted against their own interests in the name of extra funding for education.
When that extra money from the lottery started flowing in, the Legislature needed money to finance its tax cuts so it decreased education funding in the amount the lottery dollars provided and plugged it into other areas in the budget. With the possible financial hole we are expecting this year (maybe $1 billion) and in years to come, I can see a repeat of history.
We do have other alternatives. We could cut $615 million of the $673 million we give as corporate welfare in the form of tax credits and tax reductions to corporations, or we could raise our state income tax back to original levels before the cuts “tanked” our Oklahoma economy. But then again, we would be saddled with a Legislature that will do its own thing without care for the wishes of the people of Oklahoma.
Brian Renegar, DVM
State Representative, House District 17
Capitol: (405) 557-7381