Will the teacher raise be delayed by a veto petition?

Tom Coburn speaking at OK Taxpayers Unite press conference

[Note: The post has been edited to correct the information regarding HB 1024xx]

On March 28th, just hours before Oklahoma Senators were to vote on pay raises for teachers and other employees funded by new taxes, a group calling themselves “Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite” held a press conference at the State Capitol. Led by former-U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, the group warned lawmakers that they would lead a citizen initiative to overturn any tax increase. Senators disregarded the warning by approving HB 1010xx with the three-quarters support needed for revenue bills, and the Governor quickly signed the measure into law on  March 29th. But is the tax increase – the first to be approved by Oklahoma lawmakers in over 25 years – now in danger of being overturned at the ballot and dragging the pay raises down with it?

A rarely-used instrument

The activists’ threat involves a little-known provision of the Oklahoma Constitution (Article V, Section 3) known as the veto referendum, which allows a referendum petition to be filed challenging any bill passed by the Legislature. To put a veto referendum on the ballot requires signatures equal to 5 percent of voters in the last Gubernatorial election, which currently would require 41,242 signatures. As with citizen-initiated petitions to enact new laws, a veto referendum shall be had at the time of the next statewide election, unless the Governor orders a special election.

There have been 20 veto referendums in Oklahoma history but none since 1970. In 1991, an initiative petition attempted to overturn HB 1017, the landmark education reform legislation of 1990, but this was not a veto referendum. HB 1990 had been passed with an emergency clause, which allowed it to take effect immediately. To overturn HB 1017, opponents tried to amend the state Constitution; they succeeded in gathering enough signatures to get State Question 639 on the ballot in October 1991, but the measure failed with just 46 percent of the vote.

A year after the failure of SQ 639, a successful initiative petition campaign led to passage of State Question 640. In addition to requiring a vote of the people or a three-quarters vote in both legislative chambers for passage of revenue bills, SQ 640 prohibited revenue bills from having an emergency clause. Instead, a revenue bill “shall not become effective and be in force until ninety days after it has been approved by the Legislature, and acted on by the Governor.”

Challenging HB 1010xx

HB 1010xx was signed by the Governor on March 29th and is set to take effect ninety days later, on June 27th.

While there is uncertainty about the timing involved in  the veto referendum process, it appears that Sen. Coburn and his followers could block enactment of HB 1010xx if they are able to gather enough signatures and clear the various other obstacles needed to get a referendum petition certified prior to the law taking effect. In that case, the bill would be stayed pending a decision by the voters, which would likely (but not necessarily) coincide with the general election on November 6th. The teacher pay raise would most likely be deferred as well, as the pay raise bill (HB 1023xx) is effective August 1st and is explicitly contingent on enactment of HB 1010xx. The effect on the pay raise bills for state employees (HB 1024xx) and school support staff (HB 1026xx) is also unclear. Both are effective July 1st; the state employee pay raise bill is contingent on HB 1010xx while the support staff raise is not.

While opponents of the education funding package have uncovered a way to block the measure, they would be taking a major gamble by moving ahead with a veto referendum. Three-quarters of lawmakers, including over 70 percent of Republicans, voted for a tax increase because they understood that providing teachers a raise is both urgent and popular. In 1991, voters reaffirmed HB 1017 even though that measure required both a 1-cent increase in the sales tax and a 1-percentage point increase in the income tax. The current funding package, by contrast, is paid for primarily by limiting the tax break on oil and gas production and higher cigarette taxes, both of which are broadly popular and directly affect a limited number of voters, along with a small increase in motor fuel taxes (3 cents per gallon on gas, 6 cents per gallon on diesel).

Putting the funding package on the ballot almost guarantees a huge mobilization and strong electoral turnout by teachers and other supporters of public education, which could hurt Republican candidates in the fall election. The main goal of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite seems to be to warn Republican lawmakers about the political perils of raising taxes; the lesson they may learn instead is to stop messing with teachers.

Learn More // Do More


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

19 thoughts on “Will the teacher raise be delayed by a veto petition?

  1. Senator Coburn
    It’s time to stop the nonsense of decreasing funding towards education and teacher pay. In Oklahoma educators will be making a mass exodus to leave and go to other states this summer; and who blames them. All the legislation has done with educators the last two weeks is lie and play political games. Two more years and my son graduates. I will be one of those leaving; if not sooner. Maybe even going back to school to obtain a different degree. It is obvious there is no respect for educators in the Oklahoma legislators and now with you senator Coburn. I am truly disappointed. I have been a republican voter since I turned 18 and I am now 50. I am going to change my voter registration because I have zero desire to be associated with a party that does not respect or value education. Senator Coburn go on and do what you think is necessary and block the teacher pay raises and leave the state of Oklahoma in 50th place while the prison rate is in first. What I see in your view is that you value inmates in prison more than the children of our future.
    One incredibly disappointed Oklahoman
    One equally disappointed educator
    One citizen who can’t wait to leave Oklahoma for a state that values its education system
    Paige Pulscher

  2. While “a small increase in motor fuel taxes (3 cents per gallon on gas, 6 cents per gallon on diesel)” may seem small, it will have a much bigger impact than you give credit. Price of consumer goods hauled to retail and manufacturing facilities will increase to recover this increase in diesel. This increase is much more far reaching than is given credit. Congratulation’s on your raise, now get ready to pay more for everything, as well as everyone else including those who have worked and now live on social security income. Way to stick it to everyone.

  3. Sen. Coburn

    I want to know the reason why you want to stop all education funding including teacher pay increases?? Do YOU have a child in the OK public school system or maybe a grandchild? You are responsible for this education crisis!

    What you are trying to do is disgraceful and an embarrassment to this state!

  4. This article states that HB1024xx is not explicitly dependent upon HB1010xx. However, in HB1024xx it states:
    “SECTION 2. The provisions of this act shall be contingent upon
    the enactment of the provisions of Enrolled House Bill No. 1010 of
    the 2nd Extraordinary Session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature and
    shall not become operative as law otherwise.”

    To me that reads it is dependent upon HB1010xx. What am I missing?

    1. Your are correct. Thanks for calling the error to our attention. The post has been updated to show that HB 1024xx is also contingent on HB 1010xx

  5. A judge has already ruled that it is illegal to add more taxes to cigarettes so how do they think they can do that now. Besides smokers will just go across state line to buy them. No money for Ok. Increaseing fuel tax will cause share rideing , less fuel sold. None of what they are putting teacher and education funding on is solid and could fail any time.I can’t believe they think it is more important to fund prisons than education. That is the same as saying they think it is more important to fund child molesters than it is to fund the child they molested. We have got to clean the capital and get people in there that have some common sense and care for the children of our state. They keep increasing our taxes and not our wages we the will not be able to afford to pay taxes and live then what will they do

    1. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a smoking cessation fee last summer, ruling that it was a tax and was passed unconstitutionally without a 3/4 tax. Since HB 1010xx received 3/4 support, it would not be vulnerable in the same way.

  6. It should be noted that Senator Coburn is a multi-millionaire and heavily invested in oil & gas. They oil & gas industry is against the increase in the Gross Production Tax that was included in HB 1010xx.

  7. Teachers did not put the bill together. So getting mad and telling teachers we are “sticking it to everyone” is incorrect. The Legislature designed it that way. That want you, the public, to believe teachers are evil and greedy so they throw in 3 cent gas tax. Teachers purposed a half a cent sales tax for funding and drop both the cigarette and fuel tax. The average family of four would pay $40 more a year. However, the house openly refused to let it come the floor for a vote. Lisa, no, he does not have children in public ed. His children went private and he is personally paying for all of his grandchildren to go to Regent in Tulsa. Therefore he doesn’t care if the system rots.

  8. Thank you, Tom Coburn for your excellent service to out country and our state. Please let me know how I can help and how I can sign the petition if it is not too late.

  9. Coburn

    I can not bring myself to say mr. Or dr. As I believe both of those prefixes demand respect which you do not deserve. Oklahoma education system has been in a tailspin for several years and yet our legislature and yourself have had no positive input . I have been working in the oil field and this year decided to teach to be close to my family.. I enjoy the kids but of course the pay is a joke . A don’t have to tell you about the funding situation in our state. It seems that may not be of interest to you as your grandchildren go to private school.. Think how much money our state could save if we shut public education down all together? I think in Oklahoma you and people like you are well on your way to doing just that . I don’t like taxes . I don’t no any rational person who does . The new pay raise that was passed to late to fix our state in my opinion. One of the things I tell my history students is that for every thing you do and every thing you don’t do there are consequences. I fear that the consequences of your anti-tax anti-education stance will do more to damage education than anything that has ever been done in our state. The teacher in the class next to me told me this morning after 17 years in Oklahoma she is going to Texas next year. “Enough is enough”. She is only going to get a 17000 dollar raise. I feel that this attitude will be very prevalent with Oklahoma teachers . As for myself , obviously I didn’t go back to teaching for the money , but many of our politicians indifference and apathy leave me disgusted. With oil wells opening up close to home and your affort to end education in our state I see no rational reason to teach . Of course not really your problem as your grandchildren attend private school .
    In closing in 1948 in a little town in western Oklahoma a cranky old principal made my father take higher level math classes. My father didn’t want to take them but wasn’t given a choice . My dad taught math for 42 years and was an amazing teacher .. He impacted countless lives. He. Left Oklahoma after three years and never came back because of the pay .. How many teachers had our state run off and how many lives were impacted due to that old principal in western Oklahoma ?? Run the teachers off and there will be no education ..

  10. Mr. Coburn,

    After 23 years as a teacher in Oklahoma, my husband decided to accept a job in Texas for about $10,000 more/year. This was a difficult decision, as we lived in Oklahoma since 1988, attended OU, raised 2 children in Oklahoma and have now left behind our daughter (currently an Oklahoma teacher), her husband, our grandchild, and a son who is now in an Oklahoma college. We had to uproot our junior high child for this move which was ever so painful. With the news of the teacher pay raise, we have gotten hopeful, … discussions such as , “ maybe we can return to Oklahoma”.. have emerged! My husband did extra duty things, such as coached for years (but it got too exhausting, so much time away from home), taught an early hour at school, in order to bring in more money.
    But then I heard about your “veto-referendum” proposal. I talked to one of your staff members yesterday, I have read your website. I’ll admit, the things you discuss do make sense. However, at this time, Oklahoma is actually operating in “emergency mode”. Teachers (like my amazing husband) are leaving the state- just cross that Red River and you have the ability to not only make ends meet but have a little left over for a vacation! Oklahoma is increasingly utilizing its ability to get emergency certifications for teachers who may not have the education they need to teach our children, or have quite the expertise as a teacher who has been educated with a bachelors/masters degree in education. Additionally, those that have much experience teaching are finding it harder to “tuff it out”, “wait another few years”.. the raise will come. The fight for our teachers is getting harder and harder. We have waited 23 years, and are ready for a small “piece of the pie” to enjoy.
    Please don’t encourage this veto, please don’t encourage Oklahomans to stop this pay raise. Your point is clear “Let Oklahomans make the choice of a tax hike”- and placing a tax on items that may not be totally depended on is maybe not the best idea. However, can we look at this like an emergency funding? Perhaps your group can continue your other proposals like the “audits”, etc and continue to find other avenues for teacher pay raises? Maybe some of your suggestions could be used in the next couple of years instead of the current proposal of cigarette/gas tax? But for now, this is all the teachers have. They need some relief… NOW!
    I mean no disrespect to you, but am honestly asking if, I’m your time in office, did you ever receive a pay raise? If so, how was that funded? How do teachers keep up with inflation if they never get any more money? Please stop the current veto – referendum in as much as it relates to halting the pay raise, and let my husband come back to the Great State if Oklahoma, and let us live near our grandchild!

    One more thing: if anyone is reading this- Please get the word out that the way that Mr. Coburns website reads is quite eloquent, and when the average citizen reads this, or is presented with this proposal, they may not realize that it is a veto- referendum which will ultimately place a halt on the teacher pay raise, for which Oklahomans have seemed to support! Please educate anyone you know, use your social media to educate the general public that if they sign this petition which needs ONLY 41,000 signatures, then the pay raise will be put out hold for a vote possibly as late as November! Petition signer,,, BEWARE!

  11. Thank you Tom for standing up for our right to vote on increase taxes. People think that this happened over night but the current education issue has taken 10 plus years to come full term. It can not be fixed over night. Yes the state legislation has removed the money from casinos and lottery that was to go to education from their budget to spend monies elsewhere but people blaming those who just got into office in February need to start where it began with Brad Henry and everyone who has held office since then accountable.

  12. This has got to stop. Just today talking to a coworker they are talking about leaving the state due to issues with education. I am a firm believer in PUBLIC education not private education. This has to STOP now. Corporations are leaving. Employees are leaving. We are becoming an embarrassment when I visit clients out of state.

  13. These teachers need a walmart job for 20 hours a week at minimum wage. Or maybe social security making less in a year than 6,000 and paying taxes for people like them that will never undetstand economics… Sick and tired of paying for everyone who won’t do their jobs to have a better life than the ones who pay for it.

  14. Has Tom Coburn’s group started collecting signatures yet? The pay raise goes into effect in June… can the teachers start planning on the raise? The Governors office told me yesterday that the raise is a “law”. So will money come from some other source if Coburn’s group gets the needed signatures to put 1010xx on hold ? Has Mr. Coburn, while in office, ever received a pay raise of any kind, and if so, was the raise funded from taxes?

  15. Pay increase yes! Tax increase no! Trying to solve problems with new taxes is always kicking the can down the road. Cut somewhere else! Jim

  16. Why wouldn’t everyone not want an audit of the education system in our state. There is a problem with education in Oklahoma, but throwing more money at it isn’t the answer until we first know where the current money is going. If we find that out there may well already be enough for teacher raises

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.