- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Mary Fallin’s top budget negotiator said Friday he is working to develop several proposals for a teacher pay raise, including some plans that would not use a $140 million surplus that was left over at the end of the fiscal year.

Fallin’s Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger said he’s looking at several options for a teacher pay raise at or above $5,000 a year. Doerflinger said some of those proposals will use all or some of the $140.8 million surplus, but others will use none of it.

“If we agreed with the Legislature on a teacher pay package not using the $140 million, that money could then be redirected in special session to the agencies that need it the most,” Doerflinger said. “Under that scenario, you could see agencies like (the departments of Human Services) and Corrections and others with big needs get more funds returned than they would under the pro rata distribution.

“The ideal scenario is to address teacher pay and critical agencies needs simultaneously, but that’s obviously dependent on agreement with the Legislature.”

The state ended up with a $140.8 million surplus after mid-year cuts were ordered to state agency budgets amid dwindling tax collections. It turned out those cuts were deeper than necessary.

Fallin has suggested lawmakers return for a special session before November’s election to consider a teacher pay hike as an alternative to a proposed one-cent sales tax on the ballot that will fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise and additional funding for state colleges, universities and career-technology system. But no agreement has been reached with Republican legislative leaders, and most lawmakers have suggested the surplus revenue be returned to state agencies.

Among the possible revenue sources Fallin encouraged lawmakers to consider this session were a tax on cigarettes and the expansion of the state sales tax to certain services and products that are currently exempt.

Both House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, and Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said this week most of their members favor returning the money to agencies, but both left the door open to the idea of a special session.

“If we can come up with a plan that would make sense, we might have more serious discussion about a special session,” Bingman said.

Hickman said his members want to approve a teacher pay plan, but couldn’t reach an agreement on how such a proposal would be funded. He said any plan funded with a tax increase would need a three-fourths vote, which would require the support of Democrats. Approving any tax increase also would be difficult for Republicans, especially before an election.

“I can’t imagine we haven’t already looked at every angle (for a teacher pay raise),” Hickman said. “But if they come up with an angle we haven’t considered, we’ll be happy to look at it.

“Right now the governor doesn’t have a plan on the table, so returning those dollars proportionally to the agencies is really the only option at this point.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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