By Rep. Mike Sanders
I commend teachers from my district who visited my Capitol office this week. They were respectful in their questions and patient in listening to answers. I have no problem with teachers taking time to visit their government in the people’s house, but I’m grateful as well to the schools that stayed in the classroom. I also want to thank community and business leaders who have called or emailed to thank me for my support of education.
The House and Senate last week passed the largest K-12 education budget in state history -- $2.9 billion that will support an average teacher pay raise of $6,100 beginning in the 2018-19 school year, school support staff raises of $1,250, $33 million in textbook funding, $24.7 million in added health care benefits, and an additional $17 million to be distributed through the school funding formula to support classroom instruction. The budget is more than $480 million above what schools received for the current fiscal year, and about $400 million above the previous highest budget in 2009.
With that being said, there is lots of incorrect information being shared.
In February, the Oklahoma Education Association spokeswoman stood in the House lounge supporting a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for all state teachers. Less than two months later she’s unhappy with the higher pay raise the Legislature secured. She’s also not satisfied with the largest education budget ever passed.
This is unfair to those educators who appreciate and support the education budget and the pay raises passed. It is unfair to most of the state’s 42,000 teachers who are not part of a union.
I also want to make note of the fact that for the first time in 30 years, a compromise funding measure cleared the hurdle of getting more than 76 votes in the House. I’m not asking for a pat on the back for this; I just want people to realize how unprecedented this is.
And yet the union clamors for more. It works its members into frenzy by telling lies and half-truths.
Here are the facts:
Fact: Education will receive about 53 percent of the state budget. More than 60 other state agencies – including transportation, health and mental health care, and public safety will share the rest.
Fact: We passed the largest K-12 education budget in state history. We gave teachers the largest raise in state history. This puts beginning year Oklahoma teachers at the highest pay rate in the region and all teachers at the 12th highest pay in the nation when cost of living is factored.
Fiction: We don’t have enough to pay for the raises or the education budget, and this is just a temporary fix.
Fact: The governor’s signature guarantees the $2.9 billion budget for K-12 education. We passed measures that will raise more than $500 million in recurring revenue for the state. This includes raising revenue from the oil and gas industry as well as taxing cigarettes and little cigars at a higher rate. We also adjusted the price of gasoline and diesel, which has not been done in 31 years, and we passed tax reform measures that will result in additional revenue. Even without the hotel/motel tax that was part of the original package, we have plenty of revolving funds, unclaimed property money and other funding sources to shore up this budget until the state economy hits full recovery. That is already happening, with collections each month exceeding last year at a record pace. We anticipate ending the fiscal year with a surplus instead of the revenue hole first predicted. All of these monies are recurring. That means, these monies come back every year.
Fiction: We are giving money to roads and bridges and health care and not education.
Fact: Some of the revenue raised will go to roads and bridges and health care funds, but we will swap the dollars currently used from the general revenue fund for these services and give them instead to education.
Education and our teachers have always been a priority for me. When we educate students and prepare them for the workforce and to be good citizens, we save in other areas such as mental health care and incarceration. That’s why I fought so hard to raise revenue to properly fund education. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The House on Monday night passed a historic teacher pay raise, giving first-year teachers a $5,000, or 15.8 percent, raise. This is a step plan. Teachers will receive more money for years of service and each higher level of education. A 25-year teacher will earn $7,700, 18.2 percent, more under this plan as a reward for their longevity. Those 25-year teachers who hold a doctorate will make an extra $8,300.
Teachers can see the proposed new salary schedule here, starting on Page 2: http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf_pdf/2017-18%20ENGR/hB/HB1023XX%20ENGR.PDF
Not only will this help recruit beginning teachers, it rewards those who decide to stay in the profession, helping us retain good teachers. This is a win win for teachers and our state.
The Senate passed the bill Wednesday evening, and the governor has said she will sign it.
The raises would begin next school year and carry into the future. The raises are aside from benefits teachers already receive. In addition, school support staff will receive a $1,250 increase, and state workers will make between $750 and $2,000 more beginning in July, depending on their current pay level.
This will move Oklahoma teacher pay from 48th in the nation to 34th, 12th when you consider cost of living, and second highest in the region. New teachers will actually be first in the region.
K-12 public schools will receive almost $500 million more in funding for Fiscal Year 2019, including the restoration of $33 million for textbooks, money for the raises and more for flexible benefits as well as additional money to be sent to schools through the school funding formula. For the first time since I’ve served in the Legislature, the House delivered an overall education budget in advance of the April 1 deadline. The Senate passed this bill Thursday morning, and it heads to the governor.
In all, the House passed 11 bills Monday night, including measures to fund the raises and the overall education budget mentioned above. Funding will come from a variety of sources, including an increase to 5 percent of gross production tax on oil and gas wells; a $1 increase on a package of cigarettes and other tobacco products; a 3-cent increase on a gallon of gasoline and 6 cents on a gallon of diesel.
About 70 percent of Oklahomans polled said they would favor a cigarette tax. The tax on motor fuels has not been adjusted since 1987, even while the price of construction material for roads and bridges has steadily climbed. This package takes a little bit of funding from a number of sources. Not only will it go toward better teacher and state employee pay and overall education, it will be used for roads and bridges and health care.
I’ve received positive support for this plan from teachers and other educators throughout my district as well as business and community leaders.
The House has been working to secure a teacher pay raise and better education funding for several years now. Because of the constitutional requirement for a 75 percent supermajority, it took months of compromise to achieve the exact right combination to gain the bipartisan support needed for these bills to pass. The fact that 11 separate bills passed the House seems nothing short of a miracle.
Also this week, the House recognized our state’s veterans on 2018 Veterans Awareness Day. We held a joint session of the Legislature to give honor and recognition to the men and women who have served our country at the selfless peril of their own lives. I am so thankful for their sacrifice and their service, and I’m grateful we had to opportunity to show them in this small way how much we appreciate them.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The speaker of the House last week announced a teacher pay raise plan that would increase base salaries for all teachers by 5 percent beginning next school year and by $10,800 for all first-year teachers and $20,000 for 25-year teachers by the end of six years.
By the end of year six, 25-year career teachers would be earning $70,000 including benefits. This would make Oklahoma teachers the highest paid in the region, 18th in the nation and third-highest in the nation when accounting for cost-of-living.
This plan will give new teachers an incentive to enter this noble profession, and it will give career teachers an incentive to stay in the field and a reward for longevity. Retention of our teachers has been a concern for some schools in the state as they’ve seen the number of emergency certification requests grow. This should help us make sure we have highly qualified teachers in our classrooms.
Several measures that could fund this plan already have passed the House, including a tax reform package that would result in $105 million in savings for the state. Another measure would modernize casino gaming, earning another $22 million at the minimum. Several additional measures are being considered that could result in income for the state but that don’t require the 75 percent vote threshold required by the state Constitution. I will provide a better breakdown of these plans as firmer details emerge. If enough reforms and savings are found, the plan could be accelerated.
In addition, please remember the state is on much better financial footing this year than it has been the past few years as we climbed out of a recession. The economy is dramatically improving, with 13 of 14 months of positive revenue collections to the state treasurer. We can use these increased collections from income and sales tax to fund education along with other necessary state services.
Funding education is part of a long-term conservative plan, just as restoring funding to our state pension plans and roads and bridges has been. We made these areas a priority, and we’ve seen slow, steady growth. We’ll see that happen for education as well. There are those who question our methods, but we have kept our word on flex benefits for all teachers, and we are keeping our word to find the right mechanism to fund teacher pay raises. We’re going to make sure this plan is paid through its entirety.
This is not the $10,000 pay raise being demanded by the state’s largest union, the Oklahoma Education Association. When combined with other costs demanded by that group, the price tag of $1.4 billion over the next three years is too steep of a curve to achieve the 75 percent of votes needed to pass revenue-raising measures in the state Legislature. The House has worked for 14 months to achieve a teacher pay raise, but we have yet to reach the 76-vote threshold required to raise revenue to fund a raise; these efforts also have failed in the Senate. So, instead we will continue to pursue measures similar to the ones mentioned above.
The teacher pay plan laid out by the House speaker is achievable and sustainable.
Teachers are a priority. We value the hard work they do in our classrooms every day to prepare our students for their futures. We want to give them a pay raise that will help put them on a level playing field with their peers in surrounding states and in the nation. This plan does that in a fiscally responsible manner.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
I’ve talked to many teachers throughout my district in the past few weeks about the potential of a walkout as they fight for additional pay.
I want to assure teachers and parents I am working night and day to find a solution that will increase pay for our educators and keep them in the classroom. At the same time, I’m seeking additional pay for state workers.
In 1990, teachers walked out of classrooms, resulting in House Bill 1017, which contained a number of education reforms and more money for schools. Teachers celebrated that success, but the public – mad about new taxes – responded by raising enough signatures on an initiative petition to place State Question 640 on the ballot. That question requires any revenue-raising measure be passed by a three-fourths majority in both legislative chambers. In the House, that’s 76 votes. With extremes on both side voting against each revenue-raising measure posed to the House over the last regular session and two special sessions, it is clear other methods of funding a teacher pay raise must be employed.
There is cause for hope. The House has passed a bill to cap itemized income tax deductions, exempting charitable giving. The bill, which would result in a savings of $106 million per year, now awaits a vote in the Senate. An additional measure would allow the modernization of tribal gaming, resulting in an additional $22 million a year. Additional measures are making their way quickly through the House and Senate with the aim of saving the state additional money that could be redirected to teacher and state employee pay raises. I am hopeful a resolution will occur.
In the meantime, a bill designating a 2 percent stipend for state retirees, including teachers, police, fire and all former state employees, passed the House on Monday. This bill passed 90-5 in a bipartisan manner. It’s responsible and affordable and a key step in helping provide relief for our retirees for the first time since 2008.
On a final note, I’m happy to report a number of reform measures aimed at placing agency directors under the authority of the office of the governor passed in the House this week. In the past, many of our state agency directors reported to unelected boards that answered to no one in particular. As evidenced in the recent misspending scandal at the state Department of Health, better oversight of our state’s largest agencies is needed.
This is deadline week for all House bills to be passed out of the House. I will keep you updated on additional measures as they make their way through the Senate.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The governor on Tuesday released an executive order requiring those receiving state Medicaid benefits to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week unless they are exempted for age, medical or mental health reasons. The House passed a bill the same day accomplishing the same thing as the governor’s directive.
The objective is to provide a path out of poverty for those who are able to work. It mirrors legislation of those receiving food purchase assistance. Those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid can transition to the state’s Insure Oklahoma plan and still be insured. All who can work should work. We should not have barriers that keep people on government assistance.
In other business, this week and next are incredibly busy as many of the bills passed out of committee are being heard on the House floor. Bills and resolutions must pass from their chamber of origin by March 15. That means all House bills must be passed to the Senate and all Senate bills to the House by that date. We then have until April 26 for measures to be passed by the opposite chamber. If legislation is amended, it returns to the chamber of origin to get a final vote. If it is accepted as is, it goes to the governor for her signature to become law.
A lot of work happens in the background in the meantime. A bill’s author, for instance, is talking to constituents, those most affected by a bill, and the author in the opposite chamber to make sure the bill’s language and intent is exactly as it should be before it comes to a final vote. The author also talks to other legislators to ensure bills are understood and questions answered before they are brought for a vote.
Here’s a look at a few of the bills that passed the House this week:
House Bill 2910 would consolidate the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. These two agencies often work together now. This bill would get rid of duplicative services and has the potential to save the state some money.
House Bill 2632 would extend Oklahoma’s stand-your-ground protections to places of worship, granting immunity to churches that wish to allow parishioners to carry weapons for purposes of defense.
House Bill 2913 would create the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp Agricultural Pilot Program, allowing farmers in partnership with universities or colleges to grow hemp in order to study the environmental and economic impact of this crop. Hemp is non-narcotic. It has no THC, and people cannot get high from it. It is federally legal and regulated. Farmers say it would make a good rotation crop and could help them earn additional money. It’s worth studying.
At the same time lawmakers are working to get regular legislation passed, budget talks are continually ongoing. We have fewer bills this year than in the past, so that gives us more time to focus on the budget.
As always, I will keep you updated on legislation and the budget as the session progresses.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The governor this week signed the final budget for Fiscal Year 2018 budget. Agencies were able to retain more than 99 percent of their funding for the fiscal year. She also signed a bill that will protect many programs for the elderly, disabled and children that are administered by the Department of Human Services.
I’m glad that action is finally complete. Now we can turn our focus to reform and accountability measures that will help us ensure state agencies are spending taxpayer dollars as efficiently as possible and in the manner intended to best serve the people of this state.
Several measures have been filed this session to increase accountability and oversight. These include:
- House Bills 3208 and 3209, which would allow the governor to appoint and remove directors at our largest state agencies. Right now many of these agencies are headed by directors hired by boards who are accountable to no one in particular.
- House Joint Resolution 1048 would amend the state Constitution to authorize the governor to appoint the offices of state treasurer, insurance commissioner, superintendent of public instruction and labor commissioner. This would allow for much more efficiency in state government with all leaders pulling toward the same end goal instead of in multiple directions.
- House Bill 3585 would create a Governmental Accountability Office within the Legislative Services Bureau. This is one of my favorite reforms. It would give us a team of dedicated professionals who focus on nothing but agency spending and ways to increase efficiency and find savings while scouring for waste and abuse. This vital arm of government has been missing, and has resulted in instances like the recent debacle at the state Health Department. This department would provide lawmakers substantial additional resources and staff to perform Constitutional duty of oversight of taxpayer dollars.
- House Bill 3597 would prohibit agency directors from serving in the governor’s cabinet. I think you can see why this is significant. You don’t want an agency head – like the director of the Health Department, for instance – who reports only to himself as the secretary of health and human services. This can lead to fraud and abuse.
- House Bills 3583 and 3584 would strengthen statutory qualifications for the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and members of the Oklahoma Department of Health Board of Directors.
- Numerous measures have been filed to limit pay for executive branch agency directors and officers and cabinet secretaries.
On a separate note, my House Bill 3329 passed out of committee this week and should be heard soon by the full House. This bill will allow firefighters retired from municipal fire departments to work for rural volunteer departments without having to be added to the state’s pension plan. This is an addition to my House Bill 2005, which became law in 2015. That eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement of being added to the state’s pension plan. Many of these volunteers already have their own businesses, or they work in the oil field or in other lucrative careers. They were happy to volunteer without needing to receive a state pension. Since HB2005 was signed into law, we have added over 200 volunteer firefighters across the state. This is a win-win for Oklahoma.
One final suggestion: If you wish to contact me to invite me to events or meetings in your communities, please call my office at (405) 557-7407, or email me at email@example.com. I don’t always have time to track everything posted on social media, but I do check my phone and email many times a day.
As always, I’ll keep you updated as the legislative session continues.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill authored by State Rep. and House Majority Leader Mike Sanders that will protect Family Child Care Home children and workers from sexual predators passed with a vote of 87-0 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives today. The bill now is eligible to be heard by the state Senate.
House bill 3330 updates current state statute by adding family child care homes or home daycares to the Oklahoma Child Care Facilities Licensing Act. The act ensures sex offenders cannot move to within 2,000 feet of a family childcare home serving five children or less. These smaller daycare centers were inadvertently left out of the Act, when it was first written several years ago. The law already protects schools, licensed daycares, campsites and playgrounds.
“This will protects the nearly 2,000 home day cares in Oklahoma, from sexual predators,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “We’re making sure these home daycares have the same protections as schools, parks and other facilities already protected by the law. I know how hard it is for people in my district to find high quality childcare without being placed on a waiting list; they rely on these smaller home centers to help them care for their children. Yet, we’ve had some home daycares close because a sexual predator moved next door. This law will give these smaller child care centers the same protections as everyone else.”
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The Oklahoma Board of Equalization met this week to certify revenue available for the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget. The board projected we will have a $167 million gap between what was appropriated for FY18 and what will be available for FY19. That is so much better than the $800 million gap the governor predicted in November, and that amount can be made up by using cash already on hand. In addition, we still have several months before we must sign an appropriations bill for FY19, and that gives more time for revenue to continue to improve.
In January, we entered the second year of positive revenue growth for the state with gross receipts to the treasury up 12 of the past 13 months and up 15 percent for January and 7.5 percent for the year. Hiring continues to be up, and most sectors of the economy continue to show improvement.
This revenue picture gives us hope of accomplishing our continued push for a teacher pay raise.
This week, the House passed three bills in special session to help us close out the FY18 budget. We’ve been working on this budget for more than a year, and we simply had to complete it and more toward the future. The first bill appropriates money for state agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year, cutting less than 1 percent from all budgets. The second bill directs the Department of Human Services to fully fund the ADvantage Home Waiver and other home-bound health services for the elderly and disabled adults as well as senior nutrition programs and foster care. The third bill supplements federal funding cuts to our physicians’ training programs at the state’s medical colleges. Once these bills pass the Senate and are signed by the governor, we can end our second special session and focus solely on the regular session and the FY19 budget.
In other news, House Bill 3330, which I authored, passed the House with a vote of 87-0. This bill adds family home child care centers to the list of places protected from sexual predators. These people will now not be able to move within 2,000 square feet of these facilities. These smaller child care centers were inadvertently left off the list of protected places when the Oklahoma Child Care Facilities Licensing Act was signed into law several years ago. This new law will protect children and childcare workers.
I also co-authored House Bill 1340, which should be heard soon on the House floor. This bill will pay a stipend to our state retirees, including teachers, firemen, police, highway patrol troopers and others. This benefit will help our retirees with cost of living increases while maintaining the adequacy of their respective retirement funds. I appreciate the service of these dedicated retirees, and this bill is a way to show them support.
I’ll keep you updated on these and other measures as they move through the legislative process.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The Step Up Oklahoma plan was brought to a vote on the House floor on Monday. It failed to get the supermajority three-fourths vote required by the state Constitution to pass, ending with a vote of 63-35. It could be placed on a future state ballot for a vote of the people.
The plan would have raised revenue in a variety of ways to fund $5,000 teacher pay raises and to shore up state health care services for those most in need. A portion of the money would have gone towards roads and bridges.
While it was disappointing to some that the plan failed, I’ve explained in previous columns that there were concerns by many on both sides of the political aisle with the amount of revenue sought and the sources from which it would be derived. There are some portions of the plans that still have merit, and may be brought forward in the future. Several reform measures in the plan would give us greater oversight of agency spending; these need to pass, and I believe they will.
While this plan failed, there are several smaller revenue portions that are still being explored. These include increasing the tax on alcohol as our laws have changed to allow its sale in more venues in the future; and increasing the tax on gasoline and diesel. This hasn’t been done since the 1980s, and a small increase would still keep Oklahoma below the regional average. The money would be used to replenish transportation funds and help us build and maintain safe roads and bridges in rural Oklahoma. Portions of the money raised could go to increase pay for our teachers and to support rural health care – two issues of which I have been adamant in my support. Increasing the cigarette tax is still under consideration as well.
I want to remind everyone, we are only in the second week of the legislative session. I’m optimistic that reason, common sense and rational thought will prevail at the state Capitol. I’m not giving up, and neither should anyone else.
Next week, the Board of Equalization meets to give lawmakers a clearer look at fiscal year 2019 revenue. The numbers should be in line with the improved economic picture we’ve already seen for the past year. Last week’s state treasurer’s report showed 12 of 13 months of improved revenue, with January collections of $1.1 billion topping the same month in 2017 by 15 percent and up 7.5 percent for the past year. Unemployment is down, and economic activity in the state is increasing. These are all signs for hope.
Meanwhile, the House investigation of Health Department spending and other agency audits continues in an effort to root out all abuse and mismanagement and make sure we are running at top efficiency.
I will keep you posted about the status of the state budget and other bills as the legislative session continues. Please keep a positive attitude. There is much cause to be optimistic.