While there is a clear need to increase teacher pay in Oklahoma, State Question 779’s imposition of an additional 1-percent sales tax is a horrible method of funding those raises for a multitude of reasons that should be considered before voting on this measure.
First, this is a repressive tax. If passed, Oklahoma’s average combined state-and-local sales tax rate will be the highest permanent rate in the United States, at 9.8 percent.
The rate in over 200 cities in Oklahoma will be over 10 percent, including Glenpool at 10.9 percent, Pryor and Okmulgee at 10.7 percent, Sapulpa and Catoosa at 10.5 percent, Broken Arrow (the Wagoner County portion) and Claremore at 10.3 percent and Skiatook at 10.2 percent.
Additionally, the combined sales tax burden would jump to 9.9 percent in Owasso, Sand Springs and Bixby, and to 9.52 percent in Tulsa.
Second, this will be a regressive, anti-family tax. Increasing sales taxes by over $420 per household will hurt young families already struggling to raise children. Oklahoma is one of the few states that does not exempt groceries from sales tax. Having anti-family taxes is horrible public policy.
Third, this is a misguided tax. Approximately 60 percent of these funds would go to other things besides classroom teacher salary increases, including over $115 million to Higher Education bureaucrats with zero taxpayer accountability.
Fourth, this is an unnecessary tax. The increased tax levy will take in $615 million annually, 2.5 times the $245 million that is needed to give every teacher a $5,000 wage increase.
More acceptable sources exist to fund teacher raises, including eliminating tax credits for wind producers, which alone would raise about $200 million, most which is reaped by companies located outside Oklahoma.
SQ 779 does not address inefficient administration of our schools. Over the past 25 years, while the number of students in Oklahoma public schools has increased 14 percent, the number of administrative and non-teaching personnel has increased 34 percent.
Reducing this administrative, non-teaching staffing level to be proportionate with student increases would be enough to fund an across-the-board teacher pay raise of more than $5,000.
Fifth, this tax should not be enshrined in the Oklahoma Constitution. The purpose of our state Constitution should be to define the basic principles of state governance. Once taxes are in the Constitution, they are guaranteed to be difficult to ever correct or reverse.
The reasons for opposing SQ 779 transcend party and ideological lines. Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives – all who care for protecting the less fortunate, supporting families, and eliminating wasteful government spending and unnecessary tax increases should agree that SQ 779 is a horrible method for addressing teacher pay.
The choice is clear. A regressive, repressive tax burden that will harm cities, businesses, and, worst of all, families – who will bear the brunt of this burden – is not something we should be proud of in Oklahoma. SQ 779 must be rejected November 8.