- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday she believes a $140.8 million windfall in state revenue should be prioritized for teacher salaries and that she supports a special legislative session to address the needs of public education.

Fallin said she met with Republican legislative leaders Tuesday morning to discuss a possible special session to consider teacher salaries and other education needs but that no decision was made. She said she will continue to meet with lawmakers but that it may be several weeks before a decision is reached.

“The leadership at the Capitol thinks we should have the discussion,” the governor said. “It would be wiser to prioritize it toward the most important needs of our state, and we’re certainly concerned about education.”

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services revealed last week that mid-year budget cuts ordered for Oklahoma agencies amid a revenue downturn caused largely by declining oil and natural gas prices during the fiscal year that ended June 30 were deeper than required and that $140.8 million was available for reallocation.

Fallin said the funds could be returned to state agencies or used to help fund a teacher pay raise. Oklahoma teachers haven’t had a pay raise since 2008 and their salaries are more than $10,000 behind the national average.

Fallin expressed support for a permanent $3,000 pay raise for public school teachers in her State of the State address that opened the 2016 regular legislative session on Feb. 1.

“We did talk during the legislative session about various ideas for teacher pay raises, but in the end because of all of the magnitude of the issues that we had to address it didn’t pass,” Fallin said.

Meanwhile, a proposed state question voters will decide in November would provide a $5,000 annual teacher pay raise and other public education improvements with a 1 percent sales tax increase.

Fallin said appropriating the $140.8 million to teacher salaries “would be a certain pay raise versus a November election which may or may not pass.” Every $1,000 increase in pay for public school teachers in Oklahoma costs the state about $60 million annually, Fallin said.

Fallin also said that although Democrats form the minority in the state House and Senate, it is important that they support the teacher pay raise proposal and make it a priority.

“As a group the Democrats have locked up on some of the issues the Republicans have put out there,” the GOP governor said.

House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Oklahoma City did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement last week Inman suggested supporters of a special session are trying to undercut the state question just three months before voters head to the polls.

“If the Republicans truly cared about teachers, they would have used their legislative supermajorities to pass a teacher pay raise at any time during the past eight years - when teachers last had a pay raise,” Inman said.

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