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Oklahoma lawmaker’s idea to help tackle the state’s budget

OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma representative is proposing an idea he believes may make the budget process smoother at the capitol.

The last week of the legislative session featured bickering at late-night committee meetings, as lawmakers raced to pass a budget in time to avoid a special session.

Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 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.

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

However, state officials said attempts to reach a special session budget agreement are still ongoing.

“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,” said House Speaker Charles McCall earlier this month.

Now, an Oklahoma representative said he has an idea that should help solve the way lawmakers manage the state’s budget.

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said he wants to set aside one day a week during the regular session and devote it to the budget.

Under his plan, no policy bills would be heard on those budget days.

"I hope it has the opportunity to get a budget put together earlier, but that's really a secondary effect. Hopefully, it gets the budget done better,” Echols said. "I think it would be a full quarter of the legislative session. While there is time devoted to the budget all the time, that is a full quarter of dedicated time."

Rep. Earl Sears is co-chair of a Republican working group that is studying the budget process in between sessions.

"Just the concept in itself I think is a good idea,” Sears said.

Sears has yet to see specifics of the idea and said it might need some tweaking.

"Are we really going to be married to 'You can only do this on a Thursday and can't have a conversation on a particular day when we might need to have that?'" Sears said.

Echols said his plan might result in less legislation being passed, but he said he believes the budget should be a priority.

"The fact that we would need to have some specific day to tell the public that we're focusing on the budget for their sake... Well, for their sake, we should be focusing on the budget 365 days out of the year,” said Rep. Jason Dunnington.

Dunnington calls the Republican work groups a bit of a dog and pony show.

"Unless you're incorporating the rest of the building on some of these great ideas and grand schemes of yours, then you're not really getting anywhere,” Dunnington said.

Sears said their next budget meeting is Sept. 5 and anyone is welcome to attend.