The state budget agreement announced this past week gives teachers and state employees much deserved raises while boosting higher education funding.
By holding firm in negotiations, Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan (D-Stillwater) was also able to raise the Oklahoma standard tax deduction to the federal level over the next four years, which will benefit middle class families. Morgan estimates that 45,000 households in Oklahoma will not have to pay state income tax in the future.
In order to get the deduction increase, teacher raises, and more education funding, Morgan and other Senate Democrats agreed to cut the income tax rate from 6.25 to 5.25 and to eliminate the estate tax over a three-year period. The income tax cut and the estate tax repeal, primarily supported by Republicans, benefit rich people the most, according to the Alliance For Oklahoma’s Future.
After the agreement was made, Morgan issued a press release calling it a victory. “By refusing to throw the people of Oklahoma under the bus, Democrats in the legislature have taken advantage of Republicans insatiable desire to cut the taxes of the privileged few to win a tremendous victory for middle class families,” he said.
Although House Speaker Todd Hiett claimed the budget deal was a victory for Republicans, Morgan’s view of the agreement seems more accurate. Morgan did not cave-in to Republicans despite the looming July 1 deadline for the budget, and he got a $3,000 raise for our underpaid teachers and a five percent pay increase for our underpaid state employees. The budget also gives higher education a $130 million increase, which could help forestall tuition increases.
The Daily Oklahoman is still squawking on its editorial page about Democratic obstructionism, but the fact remains the budget deal came together before the deadline, the state government is still up and running, and middle class families will benefit from the deduction increase.
The budget has to be formally approved in a special legislative session. The legislature meets again June 21.
Istook's Hate Agenda
U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, who is running for governor here, voted this past week to deny in-state college tuition to the children of illegal immigrants, according to news reports.
Oklahoma law allows such children to pay in-state tuition providing they meet strict criteria. Istook voted for the anti-immigrant measure, which was attached to a spending bill. The measure would deny federal funding to colleges that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
Obviously, in this election year, Istook and other Republicans are trying to use illegal immigrants, primarily Hispanic people, as scapegoats to generate hate and anger. This hate and anger then deflects people from the failed policies of Republicans in Washington. It is a simple political gambit.
Istook has absolutely no business trying to overturn a state law for his personal political gain.
And have you seen those hateful television advertisements of Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode? Bode, who is running for Istook’s Fifth District seat, is focusing on the immigration issue in her campaign despite the fact it has little relevance here. Again, by stirring up hate and anger, the Republicans hope to deflect attention away from issues like the Iraq war, rampant political corruption, stagnant wages, and rising gasoline prices and inflation. It has worked in the past, especially in states with low educational rankings.
Raise The Minimum Wage
A “We The People” rally is scheduled for 10 a.m., Monday, June 19 on the south Capitol steps in Oklahoma City.
The rally is sponsored by Raise Oklahoma, which is supporting state Rep. Richard Morrissette’s bill to raise the state’s minimum wage above the federal level of $5.15 an hour. The group is also circulating an initiative petition that would send the issue to the ballot.
If passed by voters, the new law would raise the minimum wage by a dollar the first two years, and then tie the subsequent increased wages to a formula using the Consumer Price Index.
Several states, including Arkansas, have passed minimum wage increases because the Republican-dominated Congress works only for the benefit of wealthy people and will not raise the wage on the federal level.