We kicked off our three-city roadshow on the state budget last night, and the Tulsa event couldn’t have gone better.
The two lawmakers on our panel — state Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, and Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville — talked about their priorities for the upcoming legislative session and highlighted the budget-related topics most likely to dominate the political conversation.
Not surprisingly, the income tax dominated a lot of the conversation — both from the panelists and the forum audience.
Our third panelist, David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, defended Oklahoma’s personal income tax and reiterated research by his organization that proposals to reduce or eliminate the income tax would effectively raise taxes for most Oklahomans.
“I’m kind of a tax cut casualty myself.”
-Social Studies Teacher, Booker T. Washington High School
Public Radio Tulsa, a StateImpact Oklahoma collaborative partner, hosted the town hall-style forum on the University of Tulsa campus.
Brian Marcum, who represented the Tulsa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, asked about state funding for jail-diversion programs
“I’m concerned about the people we lock up in prisons who have mental illness,” he said.
Several teachers attended the event. One woman felt strongly that even talking about cutting taxes with the current state of education in Oklahoma was “unconscionable.”
One man, a social studies teacher at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School who described himself as a “tax cut casualty,” asked whether funding would be restored to a state program that gives National Board Certified teachers a $5,000 annual stipend for 10 years.
“I’m kind of a tax cut casualty myself,” he said.
The stipend program wasn’t included in the Department of Education’s 2012 budget. Losing the stipend was the equivalent to a 12 percent pay cut, the teacher said:
“It feels like a broken promise.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi chose not to seek funding for the stipend program, not legislators, Rep. Sears said, pointing out that lawmakers didn’t have “line-item” authority in that instance.
Still, lawmakers could fund the stipend program with a special supplement, Sears said.
“It is a deal we made. It is a pact that we made. We need to live up to that,” he said. “If the money was there, that will be our intent to do that.”
StateImpact Oklahoma’s roadshow continues Wednesday in Oklahoma City and Tuesday, Jan. 31 in Stillwater.