Group drops effort to repeal tax hikes for Oklahoma teachers
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An anti-tax group seeking to roll back a package of tax increases approved by the Oklahoma Legislature to help fund a teacher pay raise said Monday it is abandoning the effort.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court's recent decision to toss the group's ballot initiative didn't leave enough time to gather the 42,000 signatures needed to place the question on the November ballot, said Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, one of the organizers of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite.
"The court really cut us short on time," Vuillemont-Smith said.
The anti-tax group led by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn was seeking a public vote to repeal tax hikes on cigarettes, fuel and energy production that were approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year to help fund an average teacher pay raise of $6,100. The tax increases took effect on Sunday.
But the Supreme Court ruled a description of the proposal on signature pages was insufficient and that its ballot title was misleading. The court said the group would have to start over with a new petition and gather the required number of signatures by July 18.
Lawmakers were seeking to placate teachers frustrated with low pay and dwindling state funding. Despite the raise, teachers walked off the job for two weeks this spring and descended on the Capitol seeking more funding for public schools.
Vuillemont-Smith said the group was not opposed to raising teacher pay, but said state leaders should have found other ways to fund the raises without raising taxes. The tax increases were the first in Oklahoma in more than two decades since voters approved a constitutional requirement that any tax increase receive a three-fourth's vote of the Legislature or be approved by a vote of the people.
Opposition to the tax hikes has come at a political cost . Many of the anti-tax Republicans in the House who voted against the package faced primary opposition this year. Two GOP incumbents were defeated in last week's primary election. Several others were forced into a primary runoff after failing to secure a majority of votes in the primary.