With the current legislative session in full swing, area legislators took a break Friday to meet with constituents during the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon at the Ardmore Convention Center.
“It is a painstaking negotiation to see which (bills) we are going to hear,” Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, said. “Most people would assume (the negotiations) would be between Republicans and Democrats, but it’s not. It’s the House and the Senate.”
Townley said those negotiations are usually about the language in bills that have had similar bills approved in the adjacent chamber.
“We are in a spot in the session where the really tough negotiations are taking place. I call it inside politics, which sometimes isn’t very attractive and can be very frustrating,” Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer  said. “That’s the nature of the beast. It’s not bad, it has been a very good session, a very productive session so far.”
Simpson said early work on the state budget from subcommittees — which began last August —  should put the Legislature in a better position moving forward.
“Sometimes you don’t make best decisions while you’re under
pressure,” Simpson said. “You got a week left in the session and you have to get a budget on the governor’s desk.”
Simpson said efforts to pass teacher pay legislation has made progress in both chambers but may be held up by a proposed tax credit for teachers using their own money on classroom supplies. Other legislation includes a $1,200 pay raise for teachers.
“Why give the teachers a tax credit? Why not just give the classroom money so the teachers don’t have to spend their money on it,” Simpson said “My position as a Legislature is that we shouldn’t even be discussing teacher pay. I don’t want to assume responsibility for how much a teacher makes. I think that should be the providence of the school board. Let’s let the school board decide where that funding is needed and not dictate it from the Legislature.”
Simpson said the Senate’s response to the proposed tax credit would instead add additional funding for the state’s education funding formula dedicated to classroom spending, which would inject funding directly into the classrooms and would force teachers to wait until tax season to recoup their expenses.
“Our debate shouldn’t be about teacher pay raises, our debate should center around funding education,” Simpson said. “If we properly fund education then I think our local school boards and administrators can determine where their needs are and allocate those funds where needed.
Simpson said the current push for a  “one size fits all” solution wasn’t the answer to the state’s current struggles with education funding.
“We don’t all wear the same size shoe in here do we?” Simpson said. “So if we decide that we are all going to have to wear a  size 9 shoe, and we all had to force ourselves into a 9 size shoe, we would all be very uncomfortable, and that’s what we are doing with our schools. We are doing a one size fits all solution for 500 plus school districts in our state. We have 500 different districts with 500 different needs and 500 different priorities that we are trying to dictate from the Legislature what their priorities need to be.”
Simpson said continuing efforts to implement a gross production tax on gravel, similar to the GPT on oil and natural gas, would primarily benefit areas like Johnson County which Simpson claimed was “rich” in a specific and commercial  form of gravel.
“It’s a natural resource, just like oil and gas is, it’s not renewable... yet Johnson County gets zero benefit from that gravel,” Simpson said. “You can sit in Ravia everyday and watch Johnson County get shipped out to Texas a trainload at a time. Yet Johnson County received no revenue from that.”
Simpson said the biggest proponent of the bill, which failed to make it out of committee, has been the State Chamber of Commerce.
“The State Chamber put a lot of pressure on this, and I’m not sure why the Chamber would be apposed to this,” Simpson said. “The impact on the price of gravel would be almost insignificant. People say that if Johnson County taxes it, they will just drive somewhere else and buy it, but they won’t find the quality they have in Johnson County anywhere else. You’re talking about a tax so low, about $2.86 (per load), you aren’t going to drive a dump truck 40 miles to save $2.86 cents. You’ll spend $20 on fuel to save $2.86.”
Simpson said the bill remains alive, but won’t be heard again until the next session.