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No deal: Attempts to reach budget agreement ahead of special session ‘ongoing’

Oklahoma State Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY – While Gov. Mary Fallin says lawmakers need to head back to work early, officials say attempts to reach a budget agreement with lawmakers is ongoing.

Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a $1.50-per-pack ‘cigarette fee’ was unconstitutional after lawmakers passed the revenue raising measure in the final five days of a legislative session without a 75 percent majority vote.

The fee was expected to generate $215 million for several state agencies.

Authorities say the Department of Human Services would have received about $69 million, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would have received $75 million and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority would have received $70 million.

Officials say the agencies will likely run out of funding before the start of the legislative session.

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says it will run out of funding in November, while the Oklahoma Health Care Authority will run out of state funds in January.

DHS says it would only be able to make it until May.

Although the legislative session is not supposed to begin until next year, Gov. Fallin says lawmakers need to get to the Capitol to fill the budget hole left by the ruling.

“A special session is the best option,” Gov. Fallin said. “Failure to meet in special session would mean $215 million would be cut mostly from these three state agencies. These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution.”

However, state officials say attempts to reach a budget agreement for lawmakers to consider in special session is still ongoing.

“Budget discussions are continuing. The governor’s office is doing due diligence in preparing for a special session as Oklahomans expect by meeting with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders in attempting to reach an agreement on how to adjust the current fiscal year budget as a result of the recent state Supreme Court ruling. As part of that discussion, the fiscal staffs of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office are looking at a variety of revenue sources to make up the budget shortfall and to provide for teacher pay increases. Possible efficiency options to streamline state government operations are also being reviewed. No agreement has been reached between the governor and any legislative party. To suggest we are even close to a deal is incredibly premature and irresponsible,” said Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston Doerflinger.  “It’s important to keep in mind that not only do we have the immediate problem of the loss of $215 million from the court’s ruling, but we should also be working towards filling the anticipated fiscal year 2019 budget hole.”

House Speaker Charles McCall issued the following statement today:

“There is never a shortage of rumor and innuendo surrounding negotiations at the Capitol, so I will add some facts to the discussion. First, there is no way House Republicans will ever pass a billion dollars in tax and revenue increases to fill a $200 million budget hole. Such a plan would be dead on arrival. Second, Minority Leader Scott Inman has no interest in negotiating in good faith with the governor or anyone else. He has failed at every turn to deliver Democrat votes for any significant revenue package. He has offered conflicting demands in public and private negotiations. The fact is, Scott Inman is only interested in campaign issues for his governor’s race, not real solutions that will help Oklahoma.”