Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On the schedule, this was to be a dull week at the Capitol; it did not turn out that way.

We in the Legislature came to a general budget agreement to provide baseline funding for all of state government. I have been working at the Capitol for more than two decades now, and this is the earliest I have ever seen a budget agreement reached by lawmakers.

The budget is a moral document, and should reflect the values we share as a state. Nothing the state does is more important than education, and it is the biggest winner in the budget.

Public schools will get a $60 million supplemental appropriation to cover costs associated with last year’s $3,000 teacher pay raise and rising health insurance costs. Education funding will increase by nearly $150 million and teachers will receive another pay increase. Funding is also included to cover the cost of increased teacher benefits associated with the raise.

The agreement leaves approximately $66 million for us to spend later in the session on other spending priorities. My priorities include finding a solution for the under-funded Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System and to provide money for the public umbilical cord blood bank I have proposed.

The agreement includes four specific tax cuts. Of those, none is more important than my proposal for a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday.

It is part of the agreement, and if everything goes as planned, no Oklahoma family will have to travel to Texas to save 8 to 9 percent on back-to-school clothing during the first weekend in August. We all will be able to keep our back-to-school dollars in our hometowns, being able to buy school clothes tax-free at our hometown merchants.

It appears not everyone shares our values on a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday. The state treasurer, Scott Meacham, already criticized the tax cut in a major metropolitan newspaper as being dangerous to city coffers.

I believe opposition to this tax cut is being penny-wise and dollar dumb. In every state that has a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday, state and municipal revenues have increased, not decreased.

A “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday is good for our cities and towns; it keeps Oklahoma’s economic strength in Oklahoma. More importantly, it is good for families, allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money during back-to-school shopping.

Most people in public office talk about “family values.” Those words ring hollow unless you value families; a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday values Oklahoma’s families.

It would be a blunder of epic proportions if Treasurer Meacham advises the governor to veto the “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday. Hopefully, the treasurer and governor will stand with Oklahoma families instead of with the small group of city bureaucrats fighting this common-sense tax cut.

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