By Oklahoma State law House Bill 1010 needed 76 votes, a majority, to pass. After receiving those votes, the tax package was sent on to the Oklahoma Senate which approved the plan Wednesday.

OKLAHOMA CITY- With Oklahoma's revenue budget shortage and a teacher walkout looming, a special session and a vote of the Oklahoma Legislature of 79 to 19 passed House Bill 1010xx then approved by the Senate on Wednesday night, Mar. 28, raising state taxes for the first time in legislative history in 28 years.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed the Bill late Monday, Mar. 26, which creates an estimated $447 million in revenue through several tax raises, including a tax rate raise to 5 percent on the production of oil and gas.

The new state revenue will fund teacher pay raises of $5,000 to $8,300 based on years of experience and level of education.

The votes have come just before Oklahoma's teachers have promised a walkout of at least 172 districts affecting thousands of students and teachers, on April 2 if Oklahoma Education Association's demand for $10,000 in teacher pay raises over three years isn't met.

OEA tweeted Monday, “April 2 is still on. Our ask is still our ask. The House is considering a number of bills tonight that could be a step in the right direction. We're still asking for a complete package, including funding for years 2 and 3.”

According to National Education Association estimates for 2016, Oklahoma ranked 48th, followed by Mississippi at 49 and South Dakota at 50, in terms of average U.S. classroom teacher salary.

Oklahoma secondary school teachers had an annual mean wage of $42,460 as of May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Average wages for teachers in Oklahoma versus the National Average by education level for elementary school teachers is $41,150 for Oklahoma and $59,020 for the national average, middle school teachers receive $42,380 in Oklahoma and $59,800 for the national average, and $42,460 for Oklahoma high school teachers and $61,420 for the national average.

The special version of House Bill 1010xx passed this week adds 3 cents per gallon tax on gasoline, 6 cents per gallon on diesel, a hotel/motel guest tax of $5 per night stay, and a one dollar tax on cigarettes.

The House GOP’s proposal adds a 5 percent tax on both existing and new Oklahoma oil and gas wells, a taxation rate had been previously highly opposed by many House Republicans and advocates for the energy industry.

The oil and gas taxation will increase to 7 percent after the first 36 months of production.

In the event Oklahoma State Question 795 is approved by voters, the statutory gross production tax rate for the initial 36 month production period will be reduced to 2 percent while the constitutional gross production tax rate at 5 percent for the initial 36 month production period is in effect. The measure also outlines the apportionment structure for gross production tax on oil and gas levied at the 5 percent rate.

By Oklahoma State law House Bill 1010 needed 76 votes, a majority, to pass. After receiving those votes, the Oklahoma House of Representatives' tax package was then sent on to the Oklahoma Senate for final consideration. The Senate approved the plan Wednesday night, Mar. 28, by a 36 to 10 vote, receiving the three-fourths majority needed.

With only 34 votes, the measure stalled when concerns regarding the hotel/motel tax portion of the plan from Sen. Anastasia Pittman caused her to recall her vote.

According to the record, Pittman left the floor before she and Oklahoma City Mayor-Elect David Holt returned to the Senate floor to cast the two deciding votes approving the $447 million tax package.

The Senate was expected to return to discuss the possibility of removing the hotel/motel tax portion of the plan according to House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka), who said it would be eliminated through a repeal by legislation that would follow in the House Thursday. The hotel/motel tax is estimated to generate $50.4 million annually and provide $46.2 million for appropriations in the FY19 budget. Some lawmakers have expressed concern on how the hotel/motel tax would impact businesses in the state and the plan is to replace the lost occupancy taxes possibly through sales taxes of online purchases.

Oklahoma news sources on the scene after the Senate vote reported Gov. Mary Fallin walked to the podium in the capitol broadcast press room joining Sen. President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz and Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat and said, "High five! I applaud the parties for working in a bi-partisan way. We will have a signing party tomorrow."

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister released this statement Wednesday evening:

“Thanks to members of the state Senate, our teachers are much closer to a desperately needed and long-overdue pay raise, one that will finally make us regionally competitive and help turn around a crippling teacher shortage. I am grateful for the strong bipartisan support on behalf of Oklahoma’s schoolkids.

"This pay raise propels Oklahoma to second in the region for average teacher pay. Nationally, we will move from the basement to better than 19 other states. While this legislation is far from all that needs to be done to reverse years of education funding cuts, it is a tremendous step forward. There is no one more important than the teacher in classroom instruction, and House Bill 1010-XX will be critical in retaining and recruiting teachers. This vote is a bright light for public education in Oklahoma.”

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association, along with the Oklahoma Education Association, still plan on walking out Monday, calling for pay raises for state workers.

President of the Oklahoma Education Association Alicia Priest released the following statement on Facebook Wednesday evening saying "The passage of HB1010xx is a truly historic moment in Oklahoma. This movement, fueled by the courageous acts of teachers, parents, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, custodians, and community members has forced this legislature to finally act. This historic investment of half a billion dollars will benefit a generation of Oklahoma students and will be felt in every community across this state. While this is major progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect. Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Oklahoma students. There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms. That work will continue Monday when educators descend on the Capitol."

Local response

Subsequently, after news spread of the Oklahoma Senate’s approval of tax measures to fund teacher raises, local superintendents gave updates on their respective district’s plans for next week.

Miami Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Hogan said Miami schools will not be in session on Monday, April 2, but will be back in session Tuesday, April 3. With all school sites closed, MPS will not be providing supervision or nutrition on Monday, April 2.

“This will be used as an ‘Advocacy Day’ to thank our legislators for their work up to this point, but also encourage them to continue to invest in our state’s future by adequately funding public education and other core services,” Hogan wrote in a letter sent out to district parents. “Our staff and community have demonstrated that we have the commitment necessary to continue to work diligently toward that goal.”

According to Hogan, Miami schools will not have to make the missed day up because the district has inclement weather days available to use.

“Should there be any changes, we will notify you immediately,” Hogan wrote. “Thank you for your support and having our back during this stressful time. Miami is an incredible place to live and raise a family because time and again, we come together when it counts.”

“Commerce Public Schools will not be in session tomorrow, Friday, March 30, or on Monday, April 2, in order for our staff to attend a Rally for Public Education at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Classes will resume on Tuesday, April 3,” Commerce Superintendent Jim Haynes said. “Thank you to the students, staff, parents, and community members for their support throughout this difficult process.”

“Welch is staying with original plans,” Welch Superintendent Dr. R. Clark McKeon said. “Out of school Monday in support of teacher raises and increased school funding. Make up that school day on Friday, April 6. School back in session Tuesday, April 3. Extra-curricular activities will continue next week as originally scheduled. Teachers are organizing to attend activities Monday, and send representatives after that.”

Afton Public Schools Superintendent Randy Gardner said, “If the Governor signs today, Afton will be in session Monday, April 2.”

News of Fallin signing off on the increases was subsequently reported by her office early Thursday evening.

“We have already announced that we will be out of school on Monday, April 2. Plan to be back in school on Tuesday and use Friday, April 6 as our make up day,” Fairland Schools Superintendent Mark Alexander said.

Quapaw Superintendent Randy Darr said, “Quapaw schools will be out Monday as the teachers will travel to the capital to rally for future school funding in Oklahoma. Our plan is to resume school Tuesday.”

“At Wyandotte Schools, our teachers want to be with their students and not burden our patrons. Classes will resume on Tuesday, April 3rd. We will suspend school on Monday, April 2nd and head to the capital. “Wyandotte Superintendent Troy Gary said. “ I first want to say thank you for taking a stand for public schools. Secondly, to let legislators know this was a great start, but now it's time to work towards a long-term sustainable funding solution. We can't follow the established precedent of addressing education funding only once every 10 years.”

Like many superintendents in the state, Gray and others feel the tax measure is a beginning, but more is still needed to continue to support education properly in Oklahoma.

“The Senate's passage of HB 1010 was a historical moment for education. We still have a lot of work to do going forward to address the funding shortfall that is a result of a decade of legislative neglect,” Gray said. “In the last 27 years, this is only the second time a funding plan to raise teacher pay has made it the governors desk. That in itself is historical. Now the question is how are they going to fund the bill. Will they come up with something sustainable or slash and cut other state agencies that are in desperate need of adequate funding. We really are super appreciative of our local legislators' support and hours they put in to make this happen.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.