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

Sep 27, 2017

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.

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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.