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.