An Oklahoma workforce development bill that legislative opponents called “socialistic” and “utterly ridiculous” was defeated Tuesday by the state House of Representatives.
Backers of the bill said it was designed to entice companies to invest in their workers.
House author Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, served notice that she might bring Senate Bill 1639 back for another vote after it was defeated 39-49 on the House floor.
The bill, backed by state Senate leaders, had sailed through the Senate by a vote of 45-1. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and state Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, authored the bill in that chamber.
The bill would offer rebates equal to 105 percent of the cost of tuition and materials to companies paying those costs on behalf of employees seeking licenses, certificates or degrees in certain jobs targeted as having high potential for growth and building wealth.
Money to pay the rebates would come from state income tax revenues.
Hall argued the program would pay for itself because trained employees would move into higher-paying jobs and their employers would hire new employees to fill their old slots. That would result in employees paying more taxes to the state, she said.
Many House members were skeptical.
“This bill seems to be on its face utterly ridiculous,” said state Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.
“When is enough, enough?” asked state Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. “Every day we’re giving away free money. ... I want to create jobs. I want every one of my neighbors, my relatives, your neighbors and your relatives to have a job, but we can’t do that if we keep giving away the farm.”
Dank called the bill an “open-ended piece of legislation” that had virtually no controls and no limits on how much it was going to cost.
“That borders on being absurd,” Dank said. “If you want a socialistic style of government, keep voting for this.”
Bingman said he hasn’t given up hope on the bill.
“That happens a lot in the House,” Bingman said of Senate bills being defeated.
Bingman said he hopes the bill will be brought up again and House members will change their minds and support it.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said the governor generally supports looking at ways to encourage more degree and certificate completions, especially in high-need areas that support Oklahoma’s major industries.
“She is working with the Legislature, the education community and private businesses in support of that goal,” Weintz said. “This bill may be reconsidered later this week, but the governor will continue to support workforce improvements with or without this legislation.”