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Capitol Insider: Lawmakers' Tempers Flare, Special Session Likely

May 19, 2017

Oklahoma state lawmakers have yet to agree on a plan to raise money for the state, and could be facing special session. 

 

What Happened At The Capitol This Week?

Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate continued to argue about revenue raising measures.

Arguments mainly centered around whether to raise the gross production tax on oil and gas companies, with the Democratic caucus, led by House Minority Leader Scott Inman, refusing to vote in favor of a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase or a gasoline tax increase without an increase on the gross production tax. 

Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate president pro tem Mike Schulz presented a plan Tuesday that would raise taxes on motor fuel and cigarettes and decrease the time period that oil and gas companies could take advantage of a low gross production tax to 18 months from 36 months. That bill failed Tuesday.

Following negotiations Wednesday and Thursday, Rep. Scott Inman accused Republicans of backing out of a proposed revenue raising deal that included a 5 percent gross production tax.

Special Session Likely

The state constitution prohibits the Oklahoma Senate and House from introducing bills that raise revenue during the last five days of the regular legislative session, which ends May 26. 

"It seems likely that a special session will have to be called," said eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley in his weekly Capitol Insider conversation with KGOU's Dick Pryor. 

A concurrent special session would allow legislators to continue considering bills that raise money for the state without violating the constitution. 

Full Interview Transcript:

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider connecting Oklahoma politics, policy and people. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. 

Shawn, with just a few days left in the regular session, budget negotiations have hit an impasse and both sides are pointing fingers. Give us a tick tock for the week that has led us to this point.

Shawn Ashley: Well, it has been a busy week talking about ideas designed to raise revenue. On Monday, we saw the Senate come out with its own plan. Of course, revenue raising measures have to start in the House, so they took a House bill, removed all the language from it, and put their own $510 million plan into that. That went to the Senate floor and it was passed 36 to 10, and they sent it over to the House. But the House indicated that they would not hear it, in part out of concerns of the requirement that revenue raising measures do begin in the House.

On Tuesday, then, we saw the tenor change, where we saw Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Charles McCall, Senate president pro tem Mike Schulz announce a plan of their own designed to generate about $342.7 million dollars from the cigarette tax, the motor fuel tax and a reduction of the gross production discount rate from 36 months down to 18 months. But earlier in the day, we had heard from House Minority Leader Scott Inman expressing opposition to this plan, saying that he and his caucus opposed it because of the increase in the motor fuel tax in particular and the fact that it did not adjust the gross production tax rate itself. That bill went to the floor Tuesday evening where it failed. 

Then on Wednesday, we began the five-way discussions with the governor, the House and Senate Republican leaders and House Minority Leader Inman, as well as Senate Minority Leader John Sparks. It appeared that maybe a deal was in the offering late Wednesday night. But on Thursday we saw confusion--something had fallen apart. 

And House Minority Leader Scott Inman again went to the podium to say that a deal he had been promised had fallen apart--that being increasing that gross production discount rate to 5 percent. 

Pryor: Shawn, revenue generating measures cannot be considered in the last five days of the session. So what has to happen for the legislature to pass revenue bills by the required adjournment on May 26? 

Ashley: It seems likely that a special session will have to be called. In order to move a bill, it takes a minimum of three to five days. And to get that done before they enter the last five days of the legislative session seems practically impossible.

They are prohibited by the Constitution from passing revenue raising measures in regular session during those last five days. If they called a concurrent special session, they would be able to do just that. Sort of despite the Constitution.

In talking to some members, however, there is what you might call revenue and budget fatigue. They've been working on this for many weeks--we've seen many budget plans just this week alone--and it seems likely that they may consider coming back in June when everybody is a little more rested and prepared to make some deals. 

Pryor: Why has it taken legislative leaders so long to get around to seriously addressing the $878 million budget hole? 

Ashley: I think they thought it was going to be easier than it has actually proven to be. I think it was simply much more difficult to get the votes needed. Keep in mind, to raise a tax you need a three-quarters vote in the House and a three-quarters vote in the Senate, and they've been far from reaching those numbers. 

Pryor: This is a dire situation that has state agencies, higher education, really wondering what's going to happen to their future.

Ashley: That's exactly right, because at this point in the discussions, we haven't talked about that part of the equation. We've talked about the revenue side and have yet to come to an agreement on how to fill the $878 million hole. But once you do that, you then have to decide how to spend that money.

And while there's been talk of holding education harmless--and perhaps a few other agencies who are in desperate need of money, as you mentioned, such as the Department of Corrections the Department of Human Services and a few others-- there's been no talk of what will happen to the other agencies. Will they stay flat, or will they see cuts? There are a lot of questions running through all the agencies across the state. 

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