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Special Session Possible in OK to Explore Teacher Pay Raise Package
Friday, July 29, 2016 7:00 AM

Sixty-three agencies that received fiscal year 2016 appropriations from Oklahoma's General Revenue Fund could receive a share of $140.8 million after receipts for the year topped the cuts implemented by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the agency announced Wednesday. However, Gov. Mary Fallin is exploring the possibility of a special session to use that money as part of a teacher pay raise package.

"Many agencies have needs, but the fact is this money would do more good for Oklahoma in the form of a teacher pay raise than it would equally distributed to agencies," said Preston Doerflinger, director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and Fallin's secretary of finance, administration, and information technology, in a press release Wednesday. "A lot of agencies—mine, for one—simply don't have as compelling a case for the money as education, particularly our teachers."

Fallin proposed a teacher pay raise in her February state of the state address. "I support and I know my fellow Oklahomans overwhelmingly support giving our teachers a pay raise," she said. "This budget appropriates $178 million in new money for a permanent $3,000 teacher pay raise for every teacher in this state. And we can do it without raising the state sales tax rate to the highest level in the nation. We can do it. I'm excited about it."

The pay raise never came to fruition as lawmakers struggled with ways to fill a $1.3 billion budget gap for FY2017 and ending up cutting most state agencies' appropriations.

Fallin mentioned the idea of a potential special session in June following a meeting of the Board of Equalization. She and Doerflinger said at the time that the issue was being explored but no decision had been made.

"I've begun discussions with legislative leaders to consider calling lawmakers to return in special session to address the issue of teacher pay raises," Fallin said in a statement Wednesday. "I continue to support a pay raise for teachers, having called on lawmakers at the beginning of this year's session to approve a teacher pay raise. Lawmakers considered it, but this was an extremely difficult budget year and a funding agreement couldn't be reached. 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."

In a visit with Capitol reporters, Doerflinger said the $140.8 million would be combined with "other revenue sources" to result in a raise of more than $5,000 per teacher.

"There are any number of options that could be considered," Doerflinger said, noting lawmakers had discussed several measures designed to increase revenue that either were not considered by committees or on the floor or did not make it into law during this year's legislative session.

Doerflinger said as of Wednesday the decision to call a special session "has not fully been made," and before one is called, a "framework" would be developed with legislative leaders. If Fallin and legislative leaders decide to move forward with a special session, Doerflinger said it would be held before November's general election.

Voters could be asked in that election to consider State Question 779, which proposes a one-cent sales tax increase to fund education initiatives in common, career technology and higher education, including a $5,000 pay raise for public school teachers.

Doerflinger called that proposal "noble" but said there were concerns because it would make Oklahoma's combined state and local sales tax rates one of the highest in the nation.

"We believe there are other, better ways to approach" a teachers' pay raise, he said.

On Wednesday, the Secretary of State's Office sent the necessary documentation to the Governor's Office that would allow her to issue an election proclamation placing the measure on the November ballot. State Election Board officials said Tuesday that state questions that will appear on November's ballot must have their proclamations issued by Aug. 26.

Final reconciliation of FY2016 revenues shows GRF allocation reductions totaling 7.0 percent required by FY2016's midyear revenue failure were deeper than necessary. The final revenue reconciliation shows the necessary reduction level was 4.4 percent or $272 million, which results in $140.8 million that was cut now becoming available for allocation or appropriation during the special session.

"We stand by the cut level we approved because instead of cutting agencies yet again, which would have happened if the cut level was too small, the state gets the chance to address a major priority in teacher pay," Doerflinger said.

Doerflinger added: "This was by no means a good year on the revenue front, but it wound up slightly better than it looked midyear when revenues were in a freefall along with oil prices. There is now money available to spend from our biggest fund, the General Revenue Fund, and the state's second-biggest fund, the 1017 Fund, made full allocations to public schools, as our office always projected it would."

Without a special session, the $140.8 million would be distributed equally among all agencies receiving general revenue allocations, Doerflinger said. The $140.8 million is not eligible to be deposited in the Rainy Day Fund because the funds are not true surplus funds as defined by the Oklahoma Constitution.

General Revenue Fund collections for FY2016 were $541.3 million, or 9.4 percent short of the estimate.