New public opinion data suggests a substantial number of Oklahoma voters prefer to see a teacher pay raise funded with cost savings from making other state government spending more efficient, rather than a sales tax increase.
The survey data also indicates if state lawmakers had provided a $5,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers in the recent legislative session, public support would likely plummet for a measure on the ballot this fall to hike sales taxes in order to increase teacher salaries.
The surveys in question were conducted by telephone in 11 state House districts, May 16-19. The surveys produced data from 3,461 individual respondents in rural and metropolitan areas across the state.
In seven of the districts surveyed, respondents were likely general election voters. In the other four districts, respondents were likely Republican primary voters.
In each of the 11 legislative districts, GOP incumbents are facing off this year against challengers in the primary or general election.
Several trends stood out from the surveys:
-Voters overwhelmingly believe teachers should receive a pay raise. This is in line with a statewide survey last year that indicated over 97% of Oklahoma voters supported a teacher salary increase. (LINK)
-Support was initially strong among respondents for a proposal on the statewide ballot later this year to fund a teacher pay raise and other spending increases by raising Oklahoma’s sales tax burden to the highest of any U.S. state. The ballot proposal, State Question 779, is championed by Univ. of Oklahoma President David Boren and others.
-Nonetheless, voters strongly preferred a teacher pay raise be funded using cost savings from reductions in nonessential state spending, rather than a tax increase. This reflects another statewide survey, released Mar. 2, which found voters wanted teacher pay raises to be financed with existing taxpayer dollars instead of a tax increase. (LINK)
-If state lawmakers had provided a $5,000 teacher pay raise during the legislative session, which ended in May, voter support for SQ 779 would likely fall enough for the ballot measure to be defeated. The prospect of funding a teacher pay raise without a tax increase resulted in an average drop in voter support for SQ 779 of over 18 percentage points.
During the course of the survey, a large number of respondents appeared to change their mind as to whether they would vote to approve the sales tax increase for teacher pay.
In all 11 surveys, a majority or strong plurality of voters initially indicated their intention to vote for President Boren’s tax increase on the ballot.
However, in 10 of the 11 surveys, once voters were presented with the possibility of state lawmakers providing a $5,000 teacher pay raise without increasing taxes, a majority or strong plurality indicated their intention to vote against President Boren’s ballot proposal.
Only in the survey of voters in House District 21 did support for SQ 779 not fall below opposition after respondents were given an alternative to the tax increase.
HD 21 is located in Bryan County, on the Texas border. Numerous reports have indicated teacher salaries in Texas are roughly $5,000 higher, on average, than in Oklahoma.
As well, Texas teachers typically keep a higher percentage of their paychecks than Oklahoma teachers, due to the lack of an individual income tax in Texas. Plus, the sales tax burden in Texas already falls below Oklahoma’s existing sales tax burden, even without President Boren’s proposed sales tax increase. In addition, grocery purchases in Texas are not assessed sales tax, while in Oklahoma they are.
In all 11 surveys, respondents were asked the following questions:
-Would you support or oppose giving Oklahoma public school teachers a pay raise this year?
-When you go to vote this November, would you support or oppose a proposal on the ballot for a new, one-cent statewide sales tax increase to fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise?
-Would you rather see a teacher pay raise be funded by a tax increase or by cost savings from reducing spending on non-essential areas of Oklahoma’s state government?
|District||Tax Increase||Cost Savings||Undecided|
-The Oklahoma Legislature is considering funding a $5,000 teacher pay raise with cost savings instead of with a tax increase. If the Legislature does this before you go to vote this November, would you support or oppose a proposal on the ballot for a new, statewide sales tax increase to fund an additional teacher pay raise?
The surveys were conducted by Clout Research on behalf of OCPA Impact, Inc., a nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Oklahoma City.
“Oklahoma families don’t want to pay higher taxes, they just want the teachers who work with their children in the classroom every day to receive a meaningful pay raise,” said Dave Bond, OCPA Impact’s CEO. “At a time when thousands of Oklahomans statewide have lost employment because of depressed oil prices, raising taxes is not the answer.”
During Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session, OCPA Impact was the only organization to advocate at the state Capitol for a salary increase for public school teachers. To provide a $5,000 pay increase for every classroom teacher statewide would cost about $245 million.
To finance the pay raise, OCPA Impact proposed over $750 million worth of various cost savings options from the reform of wasteful or nonessential spending by state government entities.
These included the elimination of all or a portion of the estimated $199 million in subsidies paid out annually by state government to wind energy companies, as well as a portion of the roughly $43 million in investment earnings collected each year by the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), which spends much of that money on advertising. (LINK)
“Even in the best-run state governments across the country, people know there’s still some waste and some inefficient spending on things that aren’t core priorities,” Bond said. “The fact is, most Oklahomans consider public schools a core funding priority, with good teachers being one of the most precious commodities of all.
“To make sure our state tends to core priorities, state government should, and can, further tighten its belt in less essential areas, as Oklahoma families are doing. Families sometimes have to do more with less, and the same holds true for state government.”
Bond also said many of the incumbent state legislators whose districts were surveyed by OCPA Impact stepped out together toward the end of the legislative session with a public call for a $5,000 teacher pay raise funded by cost savings. (LINK)
“They should be commended for their efforts,” Bond said. “The concerns from across the state, both of parents of schoolchildren and of taxpayers, did not fall entirely on deaf ears.”