SWOK officials weigh in on Step Up Oklahoma

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - One local representative who cast a no vote for a bill designed to give teachers a pay raise says he did so because of the massive tax increases it would bring.

Monday night, the "Step up Oklahoma" plan or House Bill 1033, which would have given teachers a $5,000 pay increase failed to receive a 75-percent majority of votes the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Representative Jeff Coody said he voted no because of the tax increases it would bring.

That plan would have increased taxes on tobacco, gasoline and wind energy production. It would have also raised the gross production tax on all oil wells from 2 percent to 4 percent.

President of the Professional Educators' Association of Lawton Arlene Cudd said despite Monday's setback, teacher pay raises are still desperately needed. She said she knows several great teachers who have left the state simply because they couldn't make a living teaching here.

"They left because they wanted to get into a better financial situation. One of my members said she left to Wichita Falls and says her salary doubled. What she was bringing home from Lawton Public Schools, she was doubled every two weeks. I said you've got the commute but she says it's worth it for the pay," Cudd said.

We are still early in this legislative session and Cudd said the Oklahoma Educators Association is regrouping and working to get another plan passed.

"I think the teachers would have been thrilled with the $5,000 but OEA is pushing the idea that we need more money than the $5,000, they are really asking for $10,000 for the teachers and $5,000 for the support people."

Only one of our legislators in Southwest Oklahoma voted against the Step Up plan, Representative Jeff Coody, who represents all of Tillman County and a large amount of Comanche County. Coody said the tax increases brought on by the bill were far too great for him to support it.

"I believe that our people use their money much more efficiently and for much better purposes than our state government. I believe in looking for money that we already have and what's already available and I would only consider taxes as an absolute last resort," Coody said.

Coody said the raise needs to come from money already within the state government, not from the taxpayers. He said that can be done by auditing every state department and eliminating any funding that's not part of their core mission.

"When you have wasteful spending, when you have mismanagement like you've seen at the health department, it's ludicrous to go back to the taxpayers and say would you help us pay," Coody said.

Despite his no vote, Coody said teacher pay raises remain a priority.

"I've always understood the need to adequately fund our teacher pay and classroom instruction for our students. Education is probably the biggest priority we have in the state of Oklahoma. I'm very committed to getting a teacher pay raise out there," Coody said.

Coody said that the only way he would support a tax increase of any kind is if the measure heads to a general ballot and is voted on by the citizens of Oklahoma. He won't support a tax increase that comes from the legislature. Coody also said he doesn't know why they were rushing to get this bill passed just five days into the legislative session before they even know how much revenue will be coming in for the year.

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