No deal: House Democrats blast Senate leadership for allegedly rejecting budget proposal

OKLAHOMA CITY - With less than two weeks until the deadline, it seems a budget deal has fallen through at the Oklahoma capitol.

For months, lawmakers have been negotiating in an attempt to close a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.

In recent weeks, Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over a variety of issues related to the budget deficit.

This past weekend, it seemed there was a budget deal in the works.

However, Democratic lawmakers announced the deal fell through on Monday morning.

On Monday afternoon, Democratic leaders held a news conference to announce, despite negotiations in the House, it seems Senate leadership would not support the plan.

Minority House Leader Rep. Scott Inman announced the House Democrats and House Republicans reached an agreement that would bring in an estimated $400 million.

"When I left the dinner table last night, we thought we had an agreement," Inman said. "Apparently, the senate leadership, for a variety of reasons apparently, has decided to renege on the negotiations and they have absolutely decided they will not support that $400 million package."

The plan included items like increasing the cigarette tax, restoring the earned income tax credit and getting rid of some incentives for the oil and gas industry. It would also expand tribal gambling to include roulette and dice games.

The proposal did not include increases to the gross production tax or the gasoline tax.

Inman said Senate leaders are calling for a stand alone cigarette tax and said they would not support the proposal.

He claims the cigarette tax is like putting a "Band aid on a bullet hole," adding it will not significantly affect the budget on its own.

"Let’s get a balanced budget, and let’s get home and allow the citizens of the state of Oklahoma to get on with their business," he said. "To date, the senate republicans have only told us what they won’t support. They’ve yet to offer up their own plan. We believe that’s a leadership problem in this building."

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz said Senate Republicans won't agree to expand tribal gambling.

"It’s a moral objection," Schulz said. "I think we have too much gambling going on in this state. I think it’s too accessible."

Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) called the inclusion of gaming a surprise that had never been previously discussed.

"We’re tired of the gimmicks," he said. We want a package not contingent on us expanding to Vegas-style gambling."

Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jon Echols pushed back against that assessment Monday, telling NewsChannel 4 in a statement:

“The proposal allowed the tribal casinos to use dice and a ball in games that they already do and would have brought in $20 million to the state this year alone without raising a single tax.”

Now, the clock continues to tick toward the deadline and lawmakers are not closer to forming a budget.

If a budget is not finalized by the deadline, a special session will be called.

"When days like today happen, it's more likely that we'll have a special session," Inman said.

The special session is expected to cost taxpayers about $30,000 a day.

In March, lawmakers asked each state agency to think about how it would handle a nearly 15 percent budget reduction, should it come to that as they try and fill a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety said troopers would be furloughed, a hiring freeze would be put in place and employees would lose their jobs if the agency had to cut its budget by 15 percent.

“It’s unacceptable for a highway patrolman to tell us, Department of Public Safety, that they’re going to have to limit the amount of miles they drive per day because they’ve got to cut down on gasoline costs to save a little bit of money,” Fallin said.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services said the “reduction scenarios at almost every level depicted can be accurately described as ranging from the terrible to the unthinkable.”

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department said 16 state parks could close if the agency is subject to a drastic cut.

The Department of Education announced teachers would lose their jobs and schools may close as a result of a cut.