Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association, said the industry supported an increase in education funding, but should not have been made to shoulder the burden. He said that because oil and gas prices are volatile, the new production tax was “a raw deal for teachers” and pointed to other areas where taxes could have been raised.
“Oklahoma has eliminated $1 billion in personal income tax,” he said, referring to some estimates of lost state revenue from cuts in recent years. But he added, “I don’t think there’s political will to do a personal income tax hike.”
Allies of the industry may try to introduce a ballot referendum to reverse the increase in production taxes.
As in West Virginia, rank-and-file teachers started the walkout movement by organizing on Facebook, at first without much help from unions. The Oklahoma Education Association gave legislators until late April to provide new revenues or face a walkout, but teachers protested and pushed the union to adopt an April 1 deadline. In Oklahoma, union membership is optional for teachers. Still, the large rallies, marches and lobbying that developed around the walkout would not have been possible without the muscle of state and national labor organizations.
Parents, too, participated in protests. Lanae DeArman of Sulphur, Okla., joined picketing teachers at the Capitol, lobbying her representatives to raise taxes to fund education. She had never been involved in politics before, she said, but the condition of her three children’s schools — aging textbooks, broken furniture — drove her to act.
“It has gone too far,” she said of the state’s tax cuts. “You want to be able to keep what you make, but where’s the line? I myself, personally, would be willing to pay a little more if it meant adequate funding for our schools.”
Ms. DeArman said she planned to vote this year and would be carefully considering candidates’ education platforms.