State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw), a member of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee, voted against two pay raise bills this week saying it would be fiscally irresponsible in a year when the state is experiencing a revenue failure of almost $900 million.
House Bill 1114 would give teachers a $6,000 pay raise over three years. House Bill 1851 would raise pay for state employees.
“Teachers and state employees deserve a pay raise,” said Bennett, “but given the budget crunch we’re in, and the fact that neither had a guaranteed funding source, I bit the bullet and voted no.”
Bennett said he will vote yes for both bills when they are heard on the House floor as long as a guaranteed funding source to pay for the raises is identified.
Bennett said he loves and appreciates teachers and state employees and the hard jobs they have, however, he felt voting for pay raises before funding is identified would be disingenuous on his part.
“I voted no because I feel it was a promise we as a state could not keep,” Bennett said. “I was sent to govern and to make hard decisions, even when they are unpopular.”
If teacher pay raises pass without a guaranteed funding source, one of three things would happen, Bennett said.
“To fund the raise, every state agency would have to take a 30 percent to 50 percent cut in the next year’s budget to fund the raise,” he said. “These same agencies have taken drastic cuts in the past years. Or, taxes would have to be raised, which is not fair to the Oklahoma taxpayer. Or, schools would have to take money out of their current budgets, thereby taking money out of the classroom and away from programs for children.”
Bennett has stressed during his time in office that he is not willing to raise taxes any more than Oklahomans currently pay, especially when other areas should be cut first.
“I would recommend we start with the Wind Mill tax credit,” he said.
“If we play politics instead of governing with some fiscally conservative common sense, we will only do more damage to our budget and the taxpayers for years to come,” Bennett said. “I wouldn’t go out and buy a new car after I lost my job, and we can’t promise pay raises in a year when we have a revenue failure.”
Bennett said if the House can re-appropriate tax dollars to pay for these raises, not raise taxes, he will vote yes on these bills.
“If we can’t find the money then I will regretfully vote no,” he said. “We have to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and find areas to cut. We need to right-size government and ensure we adequately fund all core functions of government before we start making promises that we are not sure we can keep.”
Bennett and State Senator Mark Allen (R-Spiro) were also listed in a press release from the State House of Representatives as being opposed to the 164 tax hikes suggested by Gov. Mary Fallin to address the state’s budget crisis. Fallin said the tax hike would raise $1.7 billion.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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