House Democrats came up short Monday in their attempt to kill a bill that would lower the income cap on the Oklahoma's Promise scholarship program for low-income students.
Over a period that lasted more than two hours, Democrats accused Republicans of penalizing the college scholarship program by cutting its funding while at the same time seeking personal income tax cuts that would result in the state losing nearly 10 times that amount in revenue.
Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, the author of House Bill 1721, countered that her intent is to ensure the program does indeed serve low-income families.
HB 1721 would change the income requirements on the scholarship program, lowering the income cap for the families of students entering college on the scholarship from $100,000 to $60,000.
Families of the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students can make no more than $50,000 when the student initially qualifies for the program.
The measure passed 56-37. It now goes to the Senate.
Democrats on the House of Representatives floor got agitated when Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, successfully made a motion to limit the time of debate. Democrats, who are outnumbered 72-29, attempted various parliamentary procedures to delay action on the bill.
It was the first dust-up this year on the House floor between Democrats and Republicans. The first month of this year's session, which began Feb. 4, went by calmly.
Last year, under then-Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, action often was delayed by Democrats working with Republicans who opposed the term-limited speaker.
After more than 40 minutes, or longer than the traditional debate time on a bill, House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, entered the House chamber and talked with Wesselhoft; Wesselhoft then apologized for making the motion and asked that normal debate time be allowed on the bill.
About 20,000 students are enrolled in the Oklahoma Promise scholarship program, said Ben Hardcastle, spokesman for the state Regents for Higher Education. The program will receive about $63.1 million this fiscal year.
Reducing the income cap from $100,000 to $60,000 would save the state about $1.7 million and affect about 500 students a year, Osborn said.
Her intent, she said, was not to find savings for a proposed quarter-percent cut in the state personal income tax, which would cost the state about $120 million annually when fully implemented.
The program was created 21 years ago; to qualify then, a family could make no more than $24,000 a year. That later rose to $32,000 and then to $50,000. To ensure funding, the Legislature several years ago stopped funding it as part of the appropriations process for higher education; instead it is funded before the appropriations process begins.