DALLAS – Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin should drop her plan to lower the state income tax rate and instead focus on how to adequately fund public education, Democratic lawmakers and local school leaders said Tuesday at a news conference in Oklahoma City.
Rep. Scott Inman of Del City, leader of the Democratic minority in the House, said state funding for common education has fallen by almost 20% in the past five years while enrollment has continued to increase. Fallin’s proposal to cut the income tax rate would result in lower state revenues and worsen the financial plight of local districts, he said.
"Our position is the public school system in the state of Oklahoma, our children, deserve to be properly funded," Inman said. "The plan that has been laid out this session by the governor and other legislative leaders, we believe, severely neglects the children in the state of Oklahoma."
Fallin has proposed a cut in the top state income tax rate to 5% from the current 5.25% in the current legislative session after failing in 2012 to obtain a new top rate of 3.25%.
Fallin’s tax cuts would provide only minor tax relief, Inman said.
The reduction would not benefit 42% of Oklahoma taxpayers, he said, and the others would see an average reduction in their state tax bill of $39 per person per year.
“While our students have larger class sizes, fewer new textbooks, and fewer resources, we're giving $39 back a year to Oklahoma citizens,” Inman said. “It just doesn’t add up.”
The lower rate cut would reduce state revenues by $60 million in fiscal 2014 and $120 million when fully implemented in fiscal 2015, Inman said.
“Instead of cutting $120 million, let's put that $120 million into the common education system in Oklahoma,” Inman said.
Oklahoma’s $6.8 billion general fund budget for fiscal 2013 includes $2.3 billion for local education.
State School Superintendent Janet Barresi asked for an $800 million increase in education funding in fiscal 2014 during legislative budget hearings, but Fallin’s proposed spending plan provides $13.5 million of additional funding.
“Just as I believe that good schools will help to lay the foundation for long term economic growth and job creation, so too does the right tax climate,” Fallin said in her February State of the State address.
Lawmakers should use the $200 million of additional revenue certified by the Oklahoma Tax Commission last month to boost education funding rather than tax cuts, said Rep. Ed Cannaday.
“There is a correlation between better academic performance and spending, but also between the achievements of our students and the economic growth of our state,” Cannaday said.
Superintendent Donna Anderson of Bryan County Independent School District 1040 said her small district is being whipsawed by a $700 per student drop in state funding since fiscal 2008 and a cut in federal aid from the sequester. A statewide vote last year to remove intangible property from local tax rolls made things worse, she said.
“I’m one tax contest from closing my doors,” Anderson said. “We can no longer cut education funding and provide educational services in the classroom.
The total drop in local property tax revenue from the intangible property exemption had been estimated by the Oklahoma Tax Commission at $60 million a year, but latest figures indicate the actual cost is more than $100 million.
The Republican chairmen of key committees in the Senate said in February that additional educational funding of up to $100 million in fiscal 2014 would be the top priority in the 2013 Legislature.
“We have three areas in education we must address, including additional appropriations to pay for reforms we’ve already enacted, and additional funding at the local level that school boards can use to address specific needs in their individual districts,” said Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, chairman of the Education Committee.