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Senate Republicans unveil, pass budget plan

OKLAHOMA CITY – The state Senate rolled out and passed a plan Monday to generate $510 million in new revenue in an attempt to balance the state budget.

The plan would raise:

  • $239 million through reforms to “off-the-top” transportation funds, includes $125 million from increasing tax on gasoline and diesel by $0.06 per gallon;
  • $215 million from increasing the cigarette tax $1.50 per pack;
  • $43 million by eliminating oil and gas gross production tax rebates;
  • $16 million by eliminating manufacturing sales tax exemption for the wind energy.

The plan is designed to minimize cuts to agencies, said Senate Pro-Tem Mike Schulz. Education and Corrections would be held harmless, while others would be asked to take no more than 5 percent cuts.

Under the plan, the state would also need to borrow from the state’s rainy day fund to fill the budget hole.

“It’s time to stop with gimmicks,” Schulz said while introducing the plan. “It’s time to stop with political games. It’s time to do the political work that the voters of Oklahoma sent us to do. And, that’s to lead this state and put this state on a better path forward.”

Republican lawmakers didn’t take questions, including – notably – NewsChannel 4’s question on what would happen if the House doesn’t pass a tax increase on cigarettes. That measure failed to gain the necessary three-fourths majority support just minutes before the Senate press conference.

Though the Senate pushed its package through in a largely symbolic vote – by law, all revenue-raising measures must start in the House – it encountered almost instant opposition from both sides of the House aisle.

“The senate already knows that a fuel tax is a poison pill to any bill,” said Speaker Charles McCall. “By introducing that, it guarantees failure. The Senate has known this for weeks, so what they proposed today is not a real solution to the budget problem. We have a bipartisan plan in place in the House that, with Senate approval, would unlock $436 million in revenue for the budget.”

McCall is referencing a plan floated last week with bipartisan House support that Sen. Schulz turned away, in part because of what he characterized as “a “moral objection” to gambling provisions.

“They chose not to act on that plan, so the House will just move forward with its plan,” McCall said. “We still have a bi-partisan agreement in the House of Representatives. The Senate knows what that consists of and, if they will take up that measure and move that forward, we will have the necessary revenue in this year’s budget to ensure that education is held harmless, that we have a teacher pay raise, that the department of public safety, corrections, healthcare and transportation are all held harmless.”