OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma voters could get a chance to vote on repealing a tax hike package used to fund a teacher pay raise.
Tax hike critics on Tuesday filed a referendum petition seeking to overturn House Bill 1010xx.
The bill, passed in a second special session, raises taxes to fund an average of a $6,100 teacher pay raise.
The measure added $1 to a pack of cigarettes, 3 cents to gasoline, 6 cents to diesel and increased the gross production tax to 5 percent from 2 percent.
Supporters need slightly more than 41,000 signatures to get State Question 799 on the ballot. The deadline is July 18.
Ronda Vuillemont-Smith is co-founder of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite.
She said supporters hope to get the measure on the November ballot.
“This will place it on a ballot for repeal — either to repeal it or to keep it, so it is a yes or no vote by the people,” she said.
Vuillemont-Smith said the group does not oppose pay hikes for teachers.
However, the Legislature and its leadership took the easy way out and raised taxes, she said.
A tax hike has not been implemented since the passage of State Question 640 in 1992 that requires the super majorities in both chambers.
Lawmakers should have audited state agencies, considered reforms or come up with alternative ideas to fund a teacher pay raise, she said.
“There are areas out there and things that we can do where we can find the money to give teachers raises and properly fund education without raising taxes,” she said. “We think teachers need to be paid more.”
House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, said the raises are tied to the implementation of House Bill 1010xx.
House Minority Leader Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, said it was disappointing to learn the referendum petition had been filed.
He said lawmakers battled for a year to come up with a bipartisan bill to fund a pay raise.
Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, said it will be “a battle for the soul of Oklahoma.”
Proctor said he believes voters will retain the measure.
Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, voted for the pay raise, but not the tax hikes.
He said the tax hike package should have been sent to voters in the first place.
The tax package and pay raise were approved prior to last month’s two-week teacher walkout that sought additional dollars for common education to lower class sizes, by supplies and fund other issues.
Former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is supporting the group’s efforts to repeal the tax hikes.
“Today’s filing of the veto referendum by Sen. Tom Coburn’s group is fiscally irresponsible,” said Alicia Priest, Oklahoma Education Association president. “After a decade of cutting budgets, this session our Legislature finally acted in the best interest of our students and passed new, recurring revenue to fund our schools.
“If this referendum were to succeed, not only would money be taken out of classrooms, but all essential state services would see devastating budget cuts to make up for the lost revenue. We encourage Oklahomans to see this effort for what it is — an attempt to dismantle state services — and not sign the petition.”