Friday legislative days in play with week left to fix state’s budget hole

OKLAHOMA CITY – Talks between Senate and House leadership on revenue solutions continue as the days to fix the state’s budget hole are getting closer to running out.

On Wednesday, the house took up just seven bills; none were any of the revenue bills that some had expected might be brought to the floor.

Six of the bills voted on – and passed – related to senate amendments on the extension of sunset provisions for the continued existence of state boards or agencies.

Some house Democrats voted against the amendments, with some expressing frustrations at the potential cost of reviewing the sunsets sooner – at four years – rather than later at six years, as was originally proposed in the house bills.

“You have allowed the senate to amend these,” said Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha.

Speaking to the bills' author, Rep. John Paul Jordan, Perryman said other than voting no “is there any other way for us to express that frustration with the fact that the Senate is costing the state of Oklahoma additional money?”

“You know what, I’m sure there’s a myriad of ways for you to represent frustration,” said Jordan, R-Yukon.

After meeting for less than two hours without hearing bills that would help plug the state’s $878 million budget shortfall, a house budget committee met for – relatively – less time but with a similar result.

“Nothing was heard on the floor that would fill the budget gap,” said Rep. Emily Virgin. “Even the measures we heard today in the appropriations committee meeting this morning and this afternoon, we heard nothing that would help us fill that gap.”

One house and three senate bills passed out of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget relating to alcohol excise tax revenue distribution, juvenile affairs, classification of teachers for the Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System, and consolidation of offices of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth with the Office of Disability Concerns.

“We’re still working on something that will bring (the house and senate) together,” said Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang. “I would say we had a meeting with all the principals this morning, the senate the house and the governor, and we’re meeting again this afternoon. So we hope to be able to pull us all together and get something done.”

After working through the weekend, House Republicans and Democrats thought there was enough of an agreement to bring to Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz and Senate Republicans Monday. But that deal was shot down hours later by Schulz over a “moral objection” to a change in tribal gambling laws allowing dice and marbles for table games.

But on Wednesday, House leadership says talks with the Senate and Gov. Mary Fallin have been progressing well, including on the gambling law changes.

“A lot of time is being put in after-hours and there is still a lot of work being done to put these details on a budget package together,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, early Wednesday evening.

With a budget deadline of next Friday and session ending on May 26, McCall says even if it doesn’t appear that work is being done at the Capitol, it is happening behind the scenes.

“If we have budget items that need to be heard on the house floor, we will be in session on Fridays. If not, our members will not be here, but our leadership teams will be.”

The senate president’s office would only say senate leadership is still working on budget negotiations.

“On the House of Representatives side, I think the speaker and I – having talked and the floor leader and I having talked – we understand the basics of where we think the revenue picture should be,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman.

House Democrats continue to push increasing the tax on oil and gas-producing wells from where it currently sits at two-percent. Lowered from seven-percent in 2014, the Gross Production Tax (GPT) is currently lower than other oil and gas-producing states in the country.

Inman says increasing the GPT to five-percent on new and current wells is enough for Democrats line up their votes and potentially open the door to additional revenue measures brought to the floor.

“We’re just trying to get the senate republicans to come on board with us and if they’ll unlock the gross production tax and allow it to have a vote on the floor of the senate, it will pass, it will pass in the house and then a variety of other revenue measures will come along with it and we will get a budget done.”