With House leadership meeting for over eight hours, staying late into the night with hopes of flipping 14 No’s into Yes’s, House Bill 1033, a package of proposed tax increases slated to stabilize the Oklahoma State budget and secure a $5,000 teacher pay raise failed to pass in the House last night.

The vote remained open until midnight as legislators and lobbyists attempted to swing 14 votes, but as of press time, HB 1033 fell short of meeting the 75 percent supermajority required to pass a tax increase.

Following the vote, Representative Pat Ownbey R-Ardmore, said it was a dark day for teachers and Oklahoma politics.

“Our teachers lost a lot today,” Ownbey said. “It’s frustrating. We just couldn’t get it done. It just goes to show we can’t get both parties to get together. There’s always a reason why you don’t vote for something. I can tell you why this isn’t the perfect bill, but at some point, you have to stick with the compromise.”

Ownbey said Republicans did their part, but two-thirds of House Democrats voted against it. The final tally had 53 of the House's Republican members, including Ownbey voting in favor, while 18 House Republicans, including Tommy Hardin, R-Madill voted no. Democrats voted 10 for, 17 against. Two representatives were absent from the vote.

The vote abruptly stalls the Step Up Oklahoma plan, which was developed by a “nonpartisan coalition of business, civic and community leaders” and championed by Governor Mary Fallin in her state of the state address. 

“The minority is driving the train,” Ownbey said. “Until we get rid of State Question 640 and try to get something more realistic in the numbers, this is not going to change.”

HB 1033, the central artery of the Step Up Oklahoma plan, was expected to raise more than $581 million in new revenues. The revenues would be used in part to increase base teacher salary by $5,000 and stabilize the budget.

The revenue would have come from increasing taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 pack, taxing small cigars as cigarettes, raising taxes on chewing tobacco by 10 percent, raising taxes on gasoline and oil by 6 cents per gallon, raising taxes on wind energy production by $1 per megawatt hour, and raising the initial gross production tax on oil and gas from 2 percent to 4 percent.

Ownbey said politics and representatives from border counties got in the way of passing HB 1033. He said representatives from border counties were concerned the tax on cigarettes would drive smokers across state lines to buy tobacco products, while the taxes on wind energy production and only raising the GPT to 4 percent dissuaded Democrats.

“Politics gets in the way of everything,” Ownbey said “It’s a compromise bill and so far we haven’t been able to compromise. We’re back to square one. The only way we can raise revenues now is to do away with deductions.”

Ownbey said without a change to State Question 640, which requires 76 votes to raise taxes, Oklahoma legislators will never be able to pass a revenue bill. Yesterday’s vote only reaffirmed that.

The worst part, Ownbey said, was seeing the teachers lose hope in their state.
“There were a lot of teachers and educators here today,” he said. “This was very disappointing for them and the members who voted for it. The legislature gets the blame."

As far as the budget is concerned, Ownbey said there is hope with an increase in revenue from an economic uptick, but the numbers will not be enough to secure raises for Oklahoma teachers.

He said he expects the House budgetary committee will have the State’s projected revenue numbers in the next 10 days.

“We’re starting over on the budget,” Ownbey said. “The only exception is the revenue numbers should look better when they come in compared to last year.”