Governor Mary Fallin called the Special Session after the court decision naming the cigarette fee an unconstitutional tax. That put a $125M hole in the state budget. She also called upon the Legislature to provide funds for a teacher raise, to find new revenue, and to address some of the systemic failures of the past. What was not clear was the agenda of the legislature’s leaders.
Nearly 200 bills were filed by Representatives and Senators. Some focused on school consolidation and administrative costs in schools. Some tinkered with budget issues around the edges. Rep. Scott Inman filed several bills to address the Gross Production Tax, arguably the largest possible source of new, sustained, revenue.
Monday’s House session began at 1:30, so legislators used that time to meet in caucus, and to meet in committees. At 1:30, the House gathered, accepted the results of the two special elections since the end of the session, Karen Gaddis, D, of Tulsa, and Jacob Rosecrants, D, of Norman. The new representatives’ names appeared on the voting board behind the Speaker’s chair. And the Speaker gaveled the day closed. Seventeen minutes.
Tuesday was much the same, with rumors of the first vote of the session, a duplicate of the cigarette fee…smoking cessation…bill. Meetings were held behind closed doors, calls for civility were shared publicly, and there was a ten minute session in the House Chambers.
After that, the legislature was called into recess so that Joint Appropriations and Budget Committee of the House and Senate could meet to hammer out something to take to the House and begin the process of finding new revenue. Fingers were pointed across the aisle in recrimination. It appears to be a very contentious time at the Capitol.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and maybe even Saturday, came and went with no measurable progress, no votes in the House, where revenue bills must originate. JCAB meetings were scheduled and canceled.
The bleak possibility of no agreement will devastate state agencies, including those most directly affected by the loss of the $215M in cigarette taxes: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Human Services, and Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Leaders of these agencies are planning for the worse, hoping for the best.
Oklahoma Policy Institute has published talking points to share with lawmakers in an effort to get the process moving forward again.
It is estimated that each day the legislature is in session costs taxpayers $30,000. This is mostly travel costs and per diem payments to legislators who must travel long distances back to the Capitol. $180,000 for six days, and counting.