By 1 p.m. on April 2, more than 20 Ardmore City Schools faculty and staff had gathered at the state Capitol for a meeting with state Representative Tommy Hardin, their second meeting of the day.
Hardin stood in the door of his office to meet with the group, which couldn’t fit comfortably in the room. Lawmakers and Capitol staff
occasionally made their way through the crowded, narrow hallway as the group voiced concerns about support staff pay, long-term education funding and other needs besides the teacher pay raise.
Hardin, who voted no on House Bill 1010xx, said he did so because of constitutional concerns with the cigarette tax included in the bill. Starting July 2019, revenue raised by the bill will be diverted to state agencies besides education. He said the bill could be challenged and thrown out.
“I told the speaker back in the fall, ‘take those dates out of there,’ that way it couldn’t be challenged on that part,” Hardin said. “Then when we come back in session, amend it.”
Hardin also said he worried the cigarette tax would drive people in border counties to do their shopping in other states in the long run. A teacher in the group quickly pointed out that the only ones leaving the state en masse seem to be teachers.
“It’s been approved and your districts will have to pay that amount,” Hardin said. “If it’s challenged, we could lose that money, and now it’s another emergency.”
Ardmore Educators Association President Amanda Cramer brought up state Legislature staff raises last January, asking why the raises were given if money is so tight statewide.
“The problem with the staff people is that we’d lose great staff to other places that pay more,” Hardin said.
The hallway briefly erupted as the group reacted to what he’d said. Teachers and support staff responded with shouts of “amen,” “we know,” and laughter. One of the key issues facing Oklahoma public schools is a teacher shortage that has spanned years, leaving schools understaffed and overcrowded.
When asked what would have been a better solution, he said raising the oil tax would have been a better, but almost unattainable, option.
“You get into the politics up here, and getting something passed that would hurt the oil companies is pretty hard,” Hardin said. “Especially when you have to have the 3/4 to pass it up here.”
Cramer said blaming the 70 percent rule had been a familiar refrain during the group’s meeting with state Representative Pat Ownbey and Senator Frank Simpson.
“That’s been the standard comment all day long,” she said. “That’s been what we’ve heard from everyone we’ve spoken to.”
She suggested putting the 70 percent rule to the voters as a state question. Hardin said pending legislation might put the issue on the ballot soon. ACS school board member Harry Spring said removing the tax made it seem like the Legislature was already setting the new bill up for failure.
“I’ve been in (education) for 15 years and every year it has been cut,”  Spring said. “That doesn’t sound like you’re funding education, it sounds like you’re trying to remove it.”
 Questions about the defunct hotel/motel tax and how it would be replaced swirled. The group voiced familiar concerns: With the tax gone, how could the state Legislature secure funding and make up the difference.
“You had the state Chamber and some other groups against that because it would make Oklahoma City now the highest taxed place for motel rooms in the nation,” Hardin said. “But they didn’t look on the other side of it. Still, they’re cheaper than all the other big cities.”
Hardin brought up the Department of Human Services as examples of drastically-cut agencies the Legislature is currently trying to manage, citing the Advantage waiver program as another program that couldn’t go unfunded.
“If it was truly only about education the job would be easy, but we’ve got all the other things to consider too,” Hardin said.
Cramer asked what Hardin was personally doing to fix the funding issues facing the state. He brought up a bill he’d drafted that would have raised gross production taxes to fund education and state employee pay raises.
“That’s been killed,” Hardin said. “It wasn’t even heard in committee, so it’s dead. It can’t be brought up again until the next legislative cycle. Someone else can introduce it if I’m not re-elected - if not, maybe I can do it then.”
Ardmore Music Director Patti Green said the situation was dire, and lawmakers needed to back public schools to help fix the situation.
“We’re your constituents, we’re saying (don’t) take this in your personal feelings, but you need to be our voice” Green said. “We need funding.”  
The group asked about other possible sources of funding to make up the difference and fund the bill long-term. Wind tax, capital gains and ball and dice all came up. One woman suggested if cigarettes were being taxed, alcohol should be taxed as well.