Democratic lawmakers passed a bill Monday afternoon to remove a scheduled decrease in the state’s payroll tax rate, allocate the additional money it will generate toward education and formally kill a controversial quasi-voucher program in a final stab to Republican lawmakers who refused to get on board with extending the tax rate.
The dramatic defeat and resurrection of SB551 in different forms came after an hour and a half of floor debate on the last day of the legislative session and amid failed efforts by Democratic lawmakers to attract at least one Republican to support an extension in the state’s Modified Business Tax rate. The extension would raise roughly $98 million over the biennium and be directed toward school safety initiatives, teacher raises and the Opportunity Scholarship program.
After an initial vote failed with all eight Republican senators opposed, Democratic lawmakers adopted another amendment removing a requirement that it pass with support from two-thirds of lawmakers in support and adding language that would take the Education Savings Accounts program off the book. ESAs were created in 2015 but have been unfunded since a 2017 state Supreme Court decision found the funding mechanism unconstitutional.
The last-minute legislative maneuverings means lawmakers are likely to remove a scheduled decrease in the Modified Business Tax, which is assessed on payroll, and allocate $16.7 million in revenue to school safety initiatives, $72 million to teacher pay raises and $9.5 million to Opportunity Scholarships — a private school scholarship for low-income families funded through tax credits given in return for donations to scholarship organizations.