Special Session Watch: As Budget Deal Remains Elusive, Inaction Could Cost State

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Oklahoma lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Sept. 25 for the state’s first special session since 2013. Follow our rolling coverage of developments as lawmakers look to bridge a $215 million shortfall caused by the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature unconstitutionally passed a $1.50 cigarette fee earlier this year.

Shortcut Links to Past Updates Below:
Fallin: No Budget Deal (4:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5)
Breaking Down the Democrats’ Budget Fix (12:55 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5)
Does Gov. Fallin Support Gross Production Tax Increase? (11:25 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3)
A Push to Toughen Medicaid Eligibility (5:50 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28)
Lobbyists Hide Spending During Special Session (4:35 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27)

Latest Update: 12:25 p.m. Tuesday

As Budget Deal Remains Elusive, Inaction Could Cost State

Each passing day without a deal to bridge the state’s $215 million budget shortfall means less potential revenue will be available if lawmakers pass one or multiple tax increases.

An Oklahoma Watch analysis of state projections shows that each day that lawmakers don’t pass the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax would cost the state between $680,305 and $712,265 in potential new revenue, depending on what calculations the state uses.

Had lawmakers passed the tax increase during the first week of the special session, which was the House Republicans’ plan at the time, it would have generated $128.9 million for the current fiscal year (it ends June 30), according to Tax Commission numbers.

The estimate tax collections on the new cigarette rate would have taken effect Jan. 1 since the state Constitution blocks revenue-raising bills from taking effect for 90 days after they are signed into law.

But the state’s inaction, so far, on the proposal means it no longer could take effect by that date even if lawmakers were to pass a bill this week.

Budget negotiators are now looking at a potential cigarette tax increase that could take effect by Feb. 1, according to projections from the governor’s office. That would bring in $102 million – a difference of $26 million from the original estimate.

And its possible that amount – as well as potential revenue for other proposed tax increases – could be lowered even more unless there is a breakthrough on the stalled budget negotiations. This task could be further complicated by a long-scheduled closure of the Capitol that will occur from Oct. 13-23.

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, signaled on Monday that lawmakers won’t try to find an alternative location if they want to continue floor work on bills during that period; they instead will resume work in late October if a deal is not reached this week. He wrote in a Facebook post that “if an agreement is not reached and voted on off the House or Senate floor by Wednesday, it will be another week and a half before the crisis will be fully solved.”

That could even potentially push the special session in November and cause any tax increases to take effect after Feb. 1.

Under this scenario, lawmakers could be forced to find more revenue-raising options outside of those discussed in recent days. Or, instead of finding more money, they could look to cutting state spending.

Legislative leaders canceled a previously scheduled budget meeting for Tuesday that could have been used to introduce new bills to bridge the shortfall. The move, which signals that Republican and Democratic budget negotiations have yet to find a deal, means that the special session likely will continue for days, if not weeks.


Latest Update: 4:20 p.m. Thursday

Fallin: No Budget Deal

Gov. Mary Fallin denied Thursday that she had struck a “deal” with House Democrats to bridge the state’s $215 million shortfall and find extra money for a teacher pay raise.

“Let me just start out by stating bluntly – there is no budget deal,” she said during a brief press conference Thursday afternoon. “First off, if I had reached a budget deal, I would have announced it.”

Her comments came hours after Democratic leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, announced what he called a “bipartisan” compromise that could break the stalemate that has divided lawmakers since they were called into special session last week. That deal, Inman said, included raising cigarette taxes, the state’s fuel tax, income taxes on high  earners and the state’s gross production tax on oil and gas. It would also repeal some sales tax exemptions on the wind industry and some services.

Inman said Fallin and Senate leaders were on board with the plan and only House Republicans would need to agree to it.

But Fallin said “any reference to (Inman) and me striking a deal must be clarified.”

Fallin confirmed that her senior staff met with Inman Wednesday and she provided legislative leaders of both parties a worksheet with “previously discussed ideas.” That worksheet, which Oklahoma Watch has reviewed, includes revenue projections for the proposals Inman discussed earlier in the day.

But she said calling this a deal was premature.

“If there’s only one person at the altar, there is no marriage,” Fallin said, referencing the fact that only House Democrats were present when Inman announced the so-called bipartisan agreement.

Inman took to Twitter moments after Fallin’s press conference to suggest she was having “cold feet.”

The back-and-forth is the latest sign that lawmakers and the governor’s office remain at an impasse over the budget.

Fallin said she hopes they can soon announce an agreement. But it doesn’t appear one with bipartisan support is imminent.


Update: 12:55 p.m. Thursday

Breaking Down the Democrats’ Budget Fix

House Democrats announced their support for a six-part package that would shore up Oklahoma’s budget through the biggest tax increase the state has seen in decades.

Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said Senate Republicans and the governor’s office have assured him of their support of the deal. But those two parties have not publicly signed off on it. And House Republicans – the main group that has been an obstacle to getting a deal done – have also yet to signal any support.

But Inman said the fact that Democrats are on board with the plan, which includes several elements that both parties have been at odds over, marks a breakthrough in the budget negotiations that have drawn on since the special session began last week.

Here is a breakdown of the deal, according to a document from the governor’s office obtained by Oklahoma Watch.

Scenario 1Total Gross RevenueFY2018, 2/1/18 effective date, after apportionment FY2019, after apportionment
Cigarette Tax, $1.50 per pack$257,800,000$102,045,833$244,910,000
GPT 5% for new wells (oil)$10,620,000$2,522,250$10,089,000
GPT 5% for new wells (gas)$9,564,000$2,271,450$9,085,800
Income tax, new 5.25% bracket $250K-$500K, 5.5% for $500K-$1 mil$36,476,000$10,799,307$32,725,173
$0.06 motor fuel tax increase$170,430,000$53,969,500$161,908,500
Elimination of wind manufacturer sales tax exemption 11/1/17$20,520,000$10,745,410$18,445,325
Sales tax on luxury services $48,986,199$44,033,449
FY2017 general revenue cash on hand $83,000,000
Total $$554,396,199$265,353,750$521,197,247

Inman called the proposal a $560 million deal. But the governor’s projections show that it would raise $265 million for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

That’s because the state Constitution blocks revenue-raising measures from taking effect until 90 days after their passage. The state envisions an effective date of Feb. 1 for most of the measures.

The $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase is, by far, the largest component of the plan, with projections showing it would bring in $102 million this fiscal year and $245 million for the 2019 fiscal year. The $0.06 fuel tax increase ($54 million this fiscal year and $161 million in fiscal year 2019) is the next largest.

The cigarette tax has been the only tax increase that House Republicans have signaled they would support. And Senate Republicans endorsed the fuel tax proposal in the regular spring session.

But the two main proposals in the package that Democrats have fought for – the 5 percent oil and gas gross production tax and the income tax increase on high earners – make up a relatively small portion of the revenue-raising measures.

The gross production tax, which would only take effect on new oil and gas wells, would raise under $5 million for this fiscal year. And the new income tax brackets would bring in $10.8 million.

But they play a key role in budget negotiations since Democrats have said they would only support the cigarette tax if it is tied to a gross production tax increase and would only support the fuel tax if it is tied to an income tax hike.

Democrats also have argued that increasing these rates will have a bigger impact on future budgets. The proposed gross production tax increase, which boosts the rate from 2 percent to 5 percent for the first 36 months of wells’ production, for instance, could make a big difference if an expected spike in drilling activity occurs over the next few years.

Included in the document from the governor’s office but absent from Inman’s press conference is the use of $83 million in “general revenue cash on hand.”

This one-time spending would be needed to cover the entire $215 million shortfall. It would also provide enough extra cash ($52 million) to pay for a $2,000 teacher pay raise that Inman said is part of the Democrats’ deal.

But shortly before Inman announced what he called a “bipartisan compromise,” House GOP leaders stressed that a deal was not imminent.

In a Facebook post, Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said lawmakers will take the “next couple days” reviewing all proposal that are still on the table. And he said without a compromise that includes raising revenue and requiring budget cuts – something not in the Democrats’ plan – a solution will not happen.

Echols, who earlier this week notified lawmakers to be ready to return to the Capitol by Monday for floor votes, said it’s possible a deal will not be ready by that time.

That could complicate logistical matters since a long-scheduled shutdown of the Capitol for renovations will occur from Oct. 13-23. But Inman said lawmakers are exploring other locations to hold legislative activities if they need to act during that time.


Update: 11:25 a.m. Tuesday

Does Fallin Support a Gross Production Tax Increase?

Oklahoma budget negotiations remain at stalemate, more than a week since the state’s first special session since 2013 started.

But a key player in the process says there is reason for optimism: Gov. Mary Fallin has endorsed a plan that includes raising the state’s gross production tax to from 2 to 5 percent, House Minority Leader Scott Inman said.

However, when contacted by Oklahoma Watch Tuesday, Fallin’s office was noncommittal about the gross production tax increase and other options. And House Republicans last week failed to accept the plan containing options supported by Fallin, the Tulsa World reported Sunday.

Inman, D-Del City, said the proposal – one long advocated by his caucus – is part of a package that would help bridge the state’s $215 million budget shortfall and even provide extra money for teacher raises.

Although specifics are still being worked out among budget negotiators, other components of the plan also include increasing the cigarette tax, gas tax, income tax for high earners and some services.

The governor’s office has not confirmed the specifics of the plan. But Chris Benge, Fallin’s chief of staff, said Friday that the governor has given lawmakers a list of proposals that she would support.

Fallin also tweeted on Tuesday that budget talks are continuing with Democrats and Republican leaders. She added, “I am hopeful we can fund core services + find efficiencies.”

Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt declined to confirm whether she supports a gross production tax increase and other items on the House Democrats’ list, saying that the governor wouldn’t comment on negotiations. He denied that a formal plan exists.

“The governor calls it an inventory of ideas,” he said.

Fallin asked the Department of Management and Enterprise Services to put together estimates for a number of options, some of which emerged from the regular legislative session and some from meetings during the summer and special session, McNutt said.

“Her intent it to try to get something decided,” he said.

In a subsequent statement, Fallin elaborated on the budget document and said she and her staff have spent several months listening to ideas as well as providing their own.

“We believe it was important to generate this document in order to bring clarity to the situation and to put everything on paper for everyone to see,” she said in the statement. “This has helped the conversations and ideas to flow as we have received a lot of feedback.”

Fallin added that the “framework” she presented meets her goals of filling the $215 million budget hole, providing teachers a pay raise and addressing long-term structural budget deficiencies.

In addition, she said, “we also have had conversations about cost-saving ideas and developing greater efficiencies.”

A key obstacle remains that could block a budget deal, even with Fallin’s potential endorsement. House Republicans have, so far, balked at looking at any tax increases other than raising the cigarette tax.

Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, however, said last week that all options are on the table. And although he cited reservations for raising the gross production tax to 5 percent, he “what matters to me is what my caucus wants.”

House Republicans planned to further discuss their options Tuesday in another closed-door meeting.

Prior to their meeting, Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday morning it is possible revenue bills will begin to be drafted.

But he wrote “hard work” and “compromise” will be needed to find a plan that can get the needed 76 votes required of revenue-raising measures.

That’s especially difficult since a number of GOP lawmakers have said they would resist any tax increases, even if they are urged by Fallin and party leaders.

“I believe every member of the Republican Caucus (the one I work most closely with) is operating in good faith attempting to find a solution,” he wrote. “I hope when the consensus is reached there can be both wide support in the caucus and from the other side of the aisle.”

Inman, meanwhile, said he remains grateful that Fallin is working toward a compromise. But he said because of the House GOP’s reluctance to support tax increases, he is even less optimistic about the prospect of a great bargain than he was last week.

Inman added that the 28-member House Democratic caucus plans to formally endorse a plan with elements of the proposal that Fallin submitted in the next couple days.


Update: 5:50 p.m. Thursday

Waiting for Budget Deal, Committee Looks for Medicaid Savings

The impasse over how to close the $215 million budget shortfall didn’t stop lawmakers from advancing a bill, almost entirely written by an out-of-state conservative group, that would set up stricter eligibility checks for Medicaid recipients.

The House Rules Committee voted 6-3 Thursday to advance the Restore Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (or HOPE) Act. The measure requires the Oklahoma Heath Care Authority to verify the eligibility of Medicaid enrollees during their initial application and on a quarterly basis to ensure they are still qualified.

The proposal also directs the state to hire an independent contractor to help verify eligibility. If it is discovered that a Medicaid recipient no longer qualifies (for example, receiving a salary increase that puts the person over the income threshold), they will be sent a letter and given 10 business days to protest or they will lose coverage.

Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, who is sponsoring the bill, said “as stewards of the public’s money,” lawmakers would be “derelict in their duty” if they didn’t ensure those who received public assistance qualified for it.

But the three Democrats on the panel questioned if the projected $1.2 million in upfront costs and $90,000 to $100,000 in recurring monthly fees would offset any savings.

They raised additional concerns that someone could lose coverage if they didn’t have enough time to protest a finding that they are unqualified.

Another area of concern from Democrats on the panel was where the bill came from.

When asked by Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, where the idea originated, O’Donnell said he only took up the bill because it was passed by the House and Senate last year but got hung up in its final stages. But he said senators asked for the bill during the special session because they have changed their minds on House amendments that sunk the bill in the spring.

A review of the bill, however, shows that it originally was model legislation from the Foundation for Government Accountability.

The Florida-based nonprofit advocates for free-market and conservative-aligned policies, such as fighting for deregulation and convincing states not to expand their Medicaid programs.

The group has previously partnered with the similarly right-leaning Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Also, former state representative Tom Newell joined the group after he resigned from the Legislature late last year.

A comparison of the foundation’s model legislation and Oklahoma’s bill shows they overlap almost word-for-word. Only the Oklahoma Health Care Authority appears to have been added in, where the model legislation leaves a blank for “{insert department(s) of welfare determining Medicaid and/or SNAP eligibility}.”

View House Bill 1093 (highlighted portions reflect exact excerpts from the model legislation)

House Bill 1093 passed out of the House Rules Committee on Thursday. Highlighted portions on one of the pages of the bill reflect exact excerpts from the model legislation put out by the Foundation for Government Accountability.

Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, said the outside origin of the bill shows that the policy is likely not needed in Oklahoma. He said supporters of the bill should first do their “due diligence” to prove there is substantial fraud and abuse.

Perryman added that other states that have taken up the model legislation have run into problems when they worked with independent consulting services to verify eligibility.

Kansas saw a backlog of thousands of Medicaid applications after it partnered with Accenture, one of the largest consulting firms in the world, and ran into problems with recipients incorrectly being denied coverage, Perryman said.

The only winners from this type of legislation are contractors, who can receive millions of dollars of taxpayer money with no real assurance they will deliver on their promises, he said.

“It isn’t hard to follow the money on this legislation,” he said.

The HOPE Act and the other bill the committee advanced – exempting trucking companies from the new 1.5 percent tax on vehicle sales – are the only legislation that has been heard in committee other than the stalled cigarette tax increase.

Lawmakers continued to meet behind closed doors throughout most of Thursday to find a deal that would restart formal floor proceedings for the session.

The House Republican Caucus spent much of Thursday meeting behind closed doors. As of Thursday evening, lawmakers have not been able to reach a revenue-raising deal.


Update: 4:35 p.m. Wednesday

Lobbyist Spending Won’t Be Known for Months

Legislators aren’t the only ones who returned to the Capitol for the special session.

If it’s anything like the regular session, lobbyists will be picking up the tabs for pricey dinners and drinks during the days or weeks to come. Lobbyists spent almost half a million dollars on meals and gifts for lawmakers and other public officials during the spring session.

A loophole in the state’s ethics rules will hide their spending to influence the special session until Jan. 15, 2018.

That’s because the rules specifically say lobbyists only have to report monthly during “regular legislative sessions and a single report for the interim between regular sessions.” The rules go on to say “an extraordinary session does not change the reporting schedule.”

It’s not clear how active lobbyists will be during the special session. A review of the last special session, in 2013, found that lobbyists spent $1,251, but the session was restricted to fixing tort reform laws.

The call for this year’s special session is broader than in 2013. Tax increases on oil and gas, wind, motor vehicle fuel and dozens of services have all been discussed. And if budget cuts are required, everyone from teachers to health care providers will be angling to avoid the toughest cuts.


Update: 12 p.m. Wednesday

With Budget Deal at an Impasse, House Leaders Blame Each Other

Republican and Democratic leaders blamed each other Wednesday for the ongoing budget impasse. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, abruptly canceled an expected vote on a proposed cigarette tax increase and announced the House would adjourn until a budget deal is reached.

Minutes after leaving the House floor late Wednesday morning, McCall and Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said the cigarette tax vote – the centerpiece of House leadership’s plan to close the $215 million budget hole – was pulled because it was clear that not enough Democrats would support it.

Echols said Republicans were prepared to deliver 75 percent of their caucus if Democrats would deliver the same share of their caucus. That would be just one vote away from the 76 votes needed to clear the three-fourths requirement for revenue-raising bills.

But with under half of the 28-member Democratic caucus expected to support the proposal, Echols said GOP leaders didn’t want to waste time and taxpayer money by staying in session trying to pass a measure that would fail on the floor.

In a press conference just after the GOP leaders delivered their remarks, House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, called McCall and leadership’s decision to adjourn “unprecedented” and an “embarrassment.”

Inman also said it is wrong for McCall to blame a failure of the cigarette tax on Democrats. He said if McCall could “lead,” he would’ve been able to bring his full 72-member caucus, which would be enough to pass the bill (with the expected 12 or so Democrats who also would back it).

Inman additionally speculated that instead of making his members vote on a tax measure that would ultimately fail, McCall pulled the legislation because he wouldn’t even be able to convince 75 percent of House Republicans to back it.

Despite the war of words, both party leaders held out hope that a bipartisan deal can be reached.

The question, however, is what that would look like and when a deal would be made.

Echols said lawmakers will stay at the Capitol with committee meetings, and behind-the-scenes budget negotiations continue. McCall added that talks with the governor, House Democrats and the Senate will include whether to increase gross production taxes on oil and gas – something that Republicans have been hesitant to support.

Inman said a gross production tax increase must be part of any “grand bargain” budget deal that would bridge the $215 million shortfall and potentially leave leftover money for a teacher pay raise. The problem is that Democrats are holding fast at calling for the 2 percent rate that wells are taxed for their first 36 months of production to be raised to 5 percent. Republicans have so far balked at that high of a rate.

But if a deal can be made, Inman said he would deliver all 28 House Democrats to pass the cigarette tax. And he said Democrats may support a Senate Republican plan to raise fuel taxes if it is paired with increasing income taxes on high earners.

Update: 10:35 a.m. Wednesday 

House Recesses Until Budget Deal Emerges

The House recessed after meeting for only a few minutes Wednesday morning. Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, in a statement accused House Democrats of playing political games but said negotiations with the caucus and the governor continue.


Update: 9:45 a.m. Wednesday 

What to Look for in Cigarette Tax Vote

Lawmakers are expected to vote today on the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax.

The proposal is the centerpiece and chief revenue-raising measure in both the GOP’s House and Senate plans to bridge the $215 million shortfall.

But an unlikely coalition of anti-tax Republicans and Democrats who don’t think the taxes go far enough could once again sink the proposal for the second time in four months.

This group blocked the cigarette tax during the regular session. And if the same 63 lawmakers – 51 Republicans and 12 Democrats – who supported it at that time vote for it again, supporters will have to find 13 more yes votes to get to the needed three-fourths threshold.

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said if 75 percent of the Democratic caucus (21 of the 28 members) votes in favor of the tax, he thinks he can convince 75 percent of his caucus (54 members) to support it. But, even in that case, they would need one more vote to hit 76 since there is one vacancy in the Legislature.

To view which no votes would have to be flipped – and which yes votes need to be retained – take a look at the chart below.

And some other votes to watch are the four lawmakers who didn’t vote on the bill during the regular session. This include Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Tulsa, who was an excused vote, and Rep. Zach Taylor, R-Seminole, who didn’t serve until later in the session.

Newly sworn-in Democrats Reps. Karen Gaddis, D-Tulsa, and Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, will also being casting their first votes as lawmakers on the cigarette tax.

LawmakerDistrictPartyChamberCigarette Tax Vote During 2017 Regular Session 
Babinec, Greg33RepublicanHouseYes
Baker, Rhonda60RepublicanHouseYes
Biggs, Scott51RepublicanHouseYes
Bush, Carol70RepublicanHouseYes
Caldwell, Chad40RepublicanHouseYes
Casey, Dennis35RepublicanHouseYes
Cleveland, Bobby20RepublicanHouseYes
Cockroft, Josh27RepublicanHouseYes
Coody, Jeff63RepublicanHouseYes
Derby, Dale74RepublicanHouseYes
Echols, Jon90RepublicanHouseYes
Enns, John 41RepublicanHouseYes
Fetgatter, Scott16RepublicanHouseYes
Ford, Roger95RepublicanHouseYes
Hall, Elise100RepublicanHouseYes
Henke, Katie71RepublicanHouseYes
Jordan, John Paul43RepublicanHouseYes
Kannady, Chris91RepublicanHouseYes
Kerbs, Dell26RepublicanHouseYes
Lawson, Mark30RepublicanHouseYes
Lepak, Mark9RepublicanHouseYes
Martin, Scott (Resigned)46RepublicanHouseYes
Martinez, Ryan39RepublicanHouseYes
McBride, Mark53RepublicanHouseYes
McCall, Charles22RepublicanHouseYes
McEachin, Scott 67RepublicanHouseYes
McEntire, Marcus50RepublicanHouseYes
Montgomery, John62RepublicanHouseYes
Moore, Lewis96RepublicanHouseYes
Mulready, Glen68RepublicanHouseYes
Murdock, Casey61RepublicanHouseYes
Newton, Carl58RepublicanHouseYes
Nollan, Jadine66RepublicanHouseYes
O'Donnell, Terry23RepublicanHouseYes
Osborn, Leslie47RepublicanHouseYes
Osburn, Mike81RepublicanHouseYes
Ownbey, Pat48RepublicanHouseYes
Pfeiffer, John38RepublicanHouseYes
Rogers, Michael98RepublicanHouseYes
Russ, Todd55RepublicanHouseYes
Sanders, Mike59RepublicanHouseYes
Sears, Earl11RepublicanHouseYes
Teague, Tess101RepublicanHouseYes
Thomsen, Todd25RepublicanHouseYes
Vaughan, Steve37RepublicanHouseYes
Wallace, Kevin32RepublicanHouseYes
Watson, Weldon79RepublicanHouseYes
West, Josh5RepublicanHouseYes
West, Tammy84RepublicanHouseYes
Worthen, Rande64RepublicanHouseYes
Wright, Harold57RepublicanHouseYes
Blancett, Meloyde78DemocratHouseYes
Cannaday, Ed15DemocratHouseYes
Condit, Donnie18DemocratHouseYes
Dunnington, Jason88DemocratHouseYes
Griffith, Claudia45DemocratHouseYes
Hoskin, Chuck6DemocratHouseYes
Loring, Ben7DemocratHouseYes
Munson, Cyndi85DemocratHouseYes
Perryman, David56DemocratHouseYes
Renegar, Brian17DemocratHouseYes
Walke, Collin87DemocratHouseYes
Young, George99DemocratHouseYes
Bennett, John2RepublicanHouseNo
Calvey, Kevin82RepublicanHouseNo
Downing, Tim42RepublicanHouseNo
Dunlap, Travis10RepublicanHouseNo
Faught, George14RepublicanHouseNo
Frix, Avery13RepublicanHouseNo
Gann, Tom8RepublicanHouseNo
Hardin, Tommy49RepublicanHouseNo
Hilbert, Kyle29RepublicanHouseNo
Humphrey, Justin19RepublicanHouseNo
McDaniel, Randy83RepublicanHouseNo
McDugle, Kevin12RepublicanHouseNo
Murphey, Jason31RepublicanHouseNo
Ortega, Charles52RepublicanHouseNo
Park, Scooter65RepublicanHouseNo
Ritze, Mike80RepublicanHouseNo
Roberts, Dustin21RepublicanHouseNo
Strohm, Chuck69RepublicanHouseNo
West, Kevin54RepublicanHouseNo
West, Rick3RepublicanHouseNo
Bennett, Forrest92DemocratHouseNo
Dollens, Mickey93DemocratHouseNo
Fourkiller, Will86DemocratHouseNo
Goodwin, Regina73DemocratHouseNo
Inman, Scott94DemocratHouseNo
Kouplen, Steve24DemocratHouseNo
Lowe, Jason97DemocratHouseNo
Meredith, Matt4DemocratHouseNo
Nichols, Monroe72DemocratHouseNo
Proctor, Eric77DemocratHouseNo
Stone, Shane89DemocratHouseNo
Tadlock, Johnny1DemocratHouseNo
Virgin, Emily44DemocratHouseNo
Williams, Cory34DemocratHouseNo
Roberts, Sean36RepublicanHouseExcused
Taylor, Zach28RepublicanHouseWas not serving at the time
Rosecrants, Jacob46DemocratHouseWas not serving at the time
Gaddis, Karen75DemocratHouseWas not serving at the time

Update: 1:50 p.m. Tuesday

House Budget Committee Passes Cigarette Tax Hike, Setting up Pivotal Wednesday Vote

The House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget voted Tuesday to advance the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase. The decision will allow the full House to vote on the measure as early as Wednesday.

But the approval margin (19-9 or 68% of the committee voting in favor) wouldn’t clear the constitutionally required three-fourths threshold once it is voted on the floor.

Every Democrat, except Reps. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, and Ben Loring, D-Miami, voted against the bill. And every Republican, except Reps. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw; Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City; Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie; and Dustin Roberts, R-Durant, voted for it.

The votes by the 28 committee members also almost completely mirrored how lawmakers voted earlier this year when they attempted to pass the cigarette tax as a revenue-raising measure that needed 76 votes (three-fourths of the chamber) to pass. That proposal failed on a 63-34 vote with 14 of the 26 Democrats voting no and 21 of the 72 Republicans voting no or not voting.

Every committee member, except Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, voted the same Tuesday as they did on the failed cigarette tax bill last year. Ortega was against it last year but voted in favor this year.

A packed room of onlookers watched as the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget heard the new cigarette tax bill. This is the only legislation that has been heard in committee so far in the special session, which is in its second day.

But Republicans would need to flip many more no votes for the bill to be successful this time.

If not, this will end the Legislature’s latest attempt to shore up the state’s budget. And it could lead lawmakers into a tricky Plan B scenario.

To bridge the $215 million shortfall, they could be forced to cut budgets – something Gov. Mary Fallin says she will veto – or find bipartisan agreement on other revenue-raising proposals.

Exchanges between Republicans and Democrats during Tuesday’s budget committee, which you can view below in the embedded tweet, showed finding consensus will be difficult.

Senate Committee Also Approves Cigarette Tax

After the House committee vote, the Senate Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget also passed the cigarette tax increase. The Senate JCAB’s 10-2 vote had a much higher level of support than the House JCAB. But, since it’s a revenue-raising bill, it must originate and pass the full House before it can be considered by the Senate.

Update: 5 p.m. Monday

Despite Fallin’s Veto Threat, McCall Raises Possibility of Budget Cuts

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, told reporters during a press conference Monday afternoon that GOP leaders will suggest budget cuts as a way to make up the $215 million shortfall if there are not enough votes to pass the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase.

McCall said about 75 percent of the 72-member House Republican caucus would support the cigarette tax. He said if Democrats can deliver an equal proportion of their 28-member caucus, there will be enough votes to achieve the needed three-fourths majority.

But whether enough Republicans and Democrats will support the plan remains unclear.

In that case, McCall said House Republicans plan to consider budget cuts instead of returning to the negotiating table with Democrats to find additional revenue.

That could put House Republicans on a collision course with Gov. Mary Fallin, who last week threatened to veto any measure that contained agency cuts. When asked about the governor’s statement that she would veto cuts, McCall only responded by saying, “I did read that, I did read that.”

McCall said the cigarette tax will be heard on the House floor either Wednesday or Thursday. He said the vote is the House GOP’s priority for the first week of the session.

McCall additionally said passing the cigarette tax would also allow lawmakers to consider a proposal to give teachers a $1,000 pay increase for the next school year. But it’s not exactly clear how that would be funded.

McCall said using carryover funds or making budget cuts could pay for the raises, which would cost about $53 million a year.

Update: 2:50 p.m. Monday

No Budget Deal as Lawmakers Make Quick Work of First Special Session Day

The Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate quickly gaveled out for the day in just under 15 minutes after convening Monday for the first day of the special session.

Lawmakers were unable to take significant action on the nearly 200 bills that have been introduced because the state’s constitution requires a bill to be read three times on different days before lawmakers can pass legislation.

Tuesday, however, will be more eventful as the House and Senate Joint Committee for Appropriations and Budget will meet and begin voting on bills that could be considered on the floor as early as Wednesday.

Among the bills on the agenda is House Bill 1099, which would again try to increase taxes on cigarettes. That proposal is key to Republican plans to bridge the $215 million budget gap. Even though this would raise only $122 million, it would allow lawmakers to tap savings and cobble together enough money to avoid budget cuts.

But, as I wrote last week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle aren’t very optimistic that it can pass with the needed three-fourths votes in the House and Senate.

House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, repeated Monday afternoon that even with some Democrats voting for it, he doesn’t think enough Republicans will back it. Inman said he could deliver his caucus if Republicans agree to increase gross production taxes or roll back some of the income tax cuts. But there was no agreement as of Monday afternoon.

Inman said there are no plans to meet with Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, or other House GOP leaders. Instead, he said, budget negotiations, going through the governor’s office, will continue.

Update: 12:25 p.m. Monday

Lawmakers File Bills Ahead of Special Session

Legislators have filed nearly 200 bills in advance of the 2017 special session that will begin this afternoon. Many are still shell bills with language to be added later and others are unlikely to be considered. But here are some of the proposals to watch:

>House Bill 1114 from Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka: Increases the cigarette tax by an undefined amount.
>House Bill 1104 from McCall: $2,000 pay raise for teachers.
>House Bill 1006, House Bill 1007, House Bill 1008, House Bill 1009, House Bill 1010, House Bill 1011, House Bill 1012 and House Bill 1013 from House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, Del-City: Increases gross production tax at different rates.

  • LBR

    Our elected officials are so embarrassing
    and enjoying every penny of their salaries that WE pay for. They knew there was going to be, or could be, a strong constitutionality problem with the cigarette “fee”. These individuals who are supposed to represent us sure didn’t mind wasting state (from OUR pocket) funds fighting it. But let’s just continue to propose budget cuts for services & agencies already severely compromised. And offer teachers a $1K raise. How insulting for Oklahoma teachers. Such ignorance. Other ways and means exist to address many of our state challenges.

    Its ironic that these men and women were VOTED into office by the very citizens whom suffer under them. For state representatives who stand for “family values” and “religious freedom”, I’m not seeing any concern regarding Oklahoma families or an awareness of what faithfully serving means. I hope at some point Oklahomans realize that we can’t claim to care about (for example) children when it is glaringly obvious we do not out our $$$ where are mouth is. We do not.

    I have lived in this state for over 30 yrs (our military family was transferred here) and I met my husband here. Even though he and I both went to school here and have higher educations, this state is no longer somewhere we are proud. And if we’re honest, there are countless other states who will appreciate and value our hard work in the medical & mental health fields. It really is unfortunate. We enjoyed living here, growing here, being here. But we are done.

    As of Thursday we are buying/closing on a house out of state. I hope the citizens of Oklahoma will remember their every day lives and pockets next time the polls are open. We are the ones paying for the foolishness of our elected officials – in more ways than one.