OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill allowing public education dollars to go to private schools is headed to the full Senate.
Senate Bill 609, by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, on Tuesday passed the Senate Finance committee by a vote of 8-6.
The measure, dubbed the “Oklahoma Education Empowerment Scholarship Act,” allows 80 percent of state aid to follow a student who wishes to attend a private school or another public school. The district would retain the 20 percent and any revenue from ad valorem taxes.
Jolley amended the measure to remove a provision that would have allowed public education dollars to go to home schools. Parents are allowed to use any remaining funds toward college tuition.
Critics say the bill would create an illegal voucher system. Jolley has called it a “choice” bill.
Jolley said the funds would be put on a debit card to be reloaded each semester. The card would have restricted uses and could not be used to purchase items such as groceries or utilities, he said.
A similar measure recently failed to secure approval in a House committee.
The panel also took aim at tax credits for the wind industry.
Senate Bill 498, by Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, would make changes to the five-year ad valorem exemption that wind energy companies can qualify to receive.
It requires that effective 2016 a wind energy company have a payroll of $1 million, up from $250,000. In addition, the company must have $2 million in capital expenditures.
Currently, it is a $250,000 payroll or a $2 million capital expenditure for qualification.
Current exemptions total $32 million, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
“We just can’t afford that level of cost without a greater number of jobs and higher amount of payroll,” Mazzei said.
Senate Bill 501, also by Mazzei, would reduce the amount of credit that new wind projects can claim per kilowatt hour produced and caps it at $6 million statewide.
Currently, the credit costs the state about $25 million a year, Mazzei said.
“It’s just more than we can afford going forward,” Mazzei said.
Also, Senate Bill 502 by Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, prohibits the wind industry from benefiting from the Investment and New Jobs tax credit. Quinn said the industry currently doesn’t participate in the credit program.
All three bills passed.
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