Oklahoma Republicans announce tax hike plan - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Oklahoma Republicans announce tax hike plan

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Gov. Mary Fallin describes the Republican plan to balance the Oklahoma state budget. (KFOR) Gov. Mary Fallin describes the Republican plan to balance the Oklahoma state budget. (KFOR)

Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders say they've reached a deal to shore up the state budget and raise pay for teachers and some state workers with a series of tax increases, but it's unclear if there is enough support to pass the plan.

Flanked Monday by about a dozen House and Senate Republicans, Fallin announced some details of the proposal on Monday, including a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax, a 6-cents-per-gallon fuel tax and an increase on alcoholic beverage taxes.

"We have been negotiating," Fallin said. "It's been very difficult to find agreement, but we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We have to find a resolution to close the $215 million budget gap and to put our state on a sustainable, stable path forward."

The proposal also calls for restoring the earned income tax credit claimed by hundreds of thousands of low-income Oklahomans and includes a $3,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers, effective in August 2018.

Passage would require some Democratic support, and the House Democratic Caucus released a statement that accused Republicans of "playing political games."

We believe that offering teachers and state employees a pay raise while simultaneously raising their taxes to pay for the raise is both disingenuous and a terrible way to balance a budget ... we will not support a plan that puts money in their right pocket just to take it back out of their left.

The Democratic Caucus said any solution should require the state's oil and gas industry "to pay their fair share."

State Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-District 48) said he hopes the new plan will get the votes it needs in order to limit any additional budget cuts.

"If you want to continue to look at cuts of services across the state -- and there will be many -- we've got to fill those budget holes," he said. "This is a way to do that to get some of these things done."

Some Oklahomans agree that the cigarette tax could be useful, especially to boost teachers' pay.

"I really think the raise will help them, and it will keep them from leaving Oklahoma, too," said Ardmore resident Debbie Christian. "A lot of the teachers, I've heard, have left the state to go out and work."

Ownbey said if the Republican plan is passed, it could help those teachers stay in state. 

"We need to be competitive with teacher pay, and Oklahoma, frankly, is not," the lawmaker said. "We've got to get to a higher level, and this would do that. So I think it's really important we get these teacher pay raises. There's no doubt that they're really sorely needed."

The budget committee will meet Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock, and the plan is expected to reach the House floor later this week.

"We can't keep having budget shortfalls year after year, because we need to fix the structure of our state budget," Fallin said.

KTEN's Colton Thompson in Ardmore, Walt Zwirko in Denison and The Associated Press in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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