Tax credits cut to help education

State Sen. Micheal Bergstrom has filed a bill that would cap tax credits at $25 million statewide for electricity generated by zero emission facilities, including wind energy, and another that could use the savings to provide a graduated teacher pay raise over the next three years.

“Teachers need a pay raise in Oklahoma,” said Bergstrom. “At the same time we have another massive revenue shortfall, which will make funding a pay increase difficult, so I authored legislation to cap the payouts on our wind tax credits and my hope is to use some of the money we save to begin funding that pay raise. The two bills I have submitted would be a good step in the right direction.”

Under the provisions of Senate Bill 95, the proposed $25 million tax credit cap for zero emission facilities would be effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. The Tax Commission would allocate the credit under the cap, where it could be reduced, depending if more credits are claimed than the $25 million cap.

Currently, there is no cap for tax credits for zero emission facilities. In 2014, $113 million was claimed in wind tax credit, which included carryover, but only $59.7 million was actually paid out to taxpayers. Under SB 95, that credit would be limited to $25 million.

“We have good reasons to not only cap the wind credits program payouts, but to close this program. In fact, the Incentive Evaluation Commission has recommended doing just that,” said Bergstrom, R- Adair. “Our program for encouraging the generation of electricity through wind has been successful; however, especially considering the difficult situation we find the state in, with an $868 million revenue shortfall, we can no longer afford these overly generous tax credits.”

Bergstrom has also filed Senate Bill 97, which would give Oklahoma teachers an incremental pay raise over the next three years. The legislation would align Oklahoma public school teacher pay more closely with average national pay schedules, which are outlined in the bill.

For example, an Oklahoma public school teacher with a bachelor’s degree with five years’ experience would earn $34,500 for the 2017-18 school year, $36,500 the next year, and $38,500 in the third year. Bergstrom says he would like to use the anticipated savings from the wind credit cap to fund the bump in teacher pay. The provisions of the teacher pay bill are contingent on the adoption of the wind credit legislation.

Bergstrom says the legislation he’s authored won’t completely shore up the gap in teacher salaries, but it’s a start.

“Unfortunately, the limit on wind credit payouts is not enough to fund a $5,000 teacher salary increase in a single year,” said Bergstrom. “Keeping that in mind, I have structured Senate Bill 97 so that teachers will receive a $1,000 raise the first year, and $2,000 in each of the next two years. By passing these bills, even in a difficult budget year, we are demonstrating to the public and to our teachers that Oklahoma is serious about education and taking care of those who teach our children.”