- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Mid-year budget cuts ordered for Oklahoma agencies amid a revenue downturn earlier this year were deeper than necessary, resulting in $140.8 million in additional revenue that could be returned to state agencies or used to help fund a teacher pay raise, state finance officials announced on Wednesday.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services said it determined the money is available for reallocation following the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Gov. Mary Fallin said she is talking to Republican legislative leaders about the possibility of calling a special session to consider using the money as part of a teacher pay raise package, although specific details haven’t been worked out.

“With this available money, I am again asking lawmakers to act on this important issue of providing a raise for every teacher in this state,” Fallin said in a statement.

OMES Director Preston Doerflinger, Fallin’s secretary of finance and chief budget negotiator, said lawmakers have discussed using the $140 million and other possible revenue sources to fund a teacher pay raise in excess of $5,000 a year. A $5,000 annual raise is how much teachers would get under a state question on the ballot in November that would fund the pay hike and other public education improvements with a 1 percent sales tax increase.

“Although the (State Question) 779 proposal is noble, it is concerning and problematic to many people … that it would cause us to have the highest sales tax in the nation and it would be approximately a 20 percent increase in the sales tax in our state,” Doerflinger said. “We believe there are other ways to approach this, and that’s what we hope to work out with (legislators).”

Every $1,000 increase in pay for public school teachers in Oklahoma costs the state about $60 million annually, Doerflinger said.

Democrats in the Legislature and other supporters of the teacher pay hike blasted Fallin and Republican legislative leaders for attempting 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,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City. “And that included years when oil was bringing $100 a barrel.”

University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator who spearheaded State Question 779, described using the $140 million in one-time revenue for teacher pay raises as a “Band-Aid approach” to solving the state’s education crisis.

“The $140 million is not a long-term funding source, it’s one-time revenue and would not ensure continuing salary increases for teachers,” Boren said in a statement. “State Question 779 would be a comprehensive solution, protected from erosion by future legislatures with full transparency through annual audits so taxpayers know exactly how the funds are being spent.”

Without a special session, the money would be proportionally distributed to all state agencies that receive general revenue allocations. Among the larger agencies, public schools would receive an additional $40 million, while the Health Care Authority would get about $23 million, Department of Human Services would get $16 million, and the Department of Corrections would get about $10 million.


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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