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Special session underway Monday for lawmakers

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma’s special session will be underway Monday.

Last 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.

“Certainly, the most pressing need is to address the immediate budget shortfall created by the loss of the $215 million cigarette fee revenue. The cigarette tax alone will not fill this year’s hole because it would be implemented much later in the fiscal year than originally proposed. We will need to identify other revenue sources to make up the difference. If we do not, additional cuts to core government services will occur,” Governor Mary Fallin said.

Now, lawmakers must go into a special session to raise revenue for the more than $200 million budget hole in a different way.

Fallin said a proposal that calls for cuts to state agencies is not an option, and she will veto if one is proposed.

“This special session is an opportunity for lawmakers to solve lingering, critical structural problems in our state budget. I am hopeful lawmakers will consider thoughtful, realistic solutions in a timely manner. Many ideas have been fully vetted over the past couple of legislative sessions, so it really should be a matter of taking care of unfinished business,” Fallin said.

House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) released a statement Friday in response to Governor Fallin saying in part:

“I appreciate the governor’s desire to protect state agencies from further cuts, but, unfortunately, that’s not realistic without using carryover cash and Rainy Day funds, which the governor has, so far, indicated an unwillingness to do. As for the tobacco tax, I have no reason to believe the Democrats are willing to do the right thing on that issue. They have played politics with the health care of thousands of Oklahomans, putting access to care at serious risk. Without the Democratic Caucus voting to increase the tobacco tax, it is, quite frankly, dead on arrival.

“I would also note one more thing relating to the tobacco tax: It takes 75 percent to pass it in the Legislature, but only 51 votes to send it to a vote of the people. While approving it on the ballot would not help matters this fiscal year, the additional revenue certainly would help address long-term budget issues. The House will vote to give Oklahomans this opportunity if the Democratic Caucus once again kills the tobacco tax in special session.”

House Minority Leader Scott Inman released the following statement after Gov. Fallin’s announcement about the special session.

“While our caucus is grateful that Governor Fallin has begun preparations for a special session, we are still concerned that Republican leadership has yet to put forth a plan to fix the budgetary mess they have created. After almost a month since the Supreme Court ruled the cigarette “fee” unconstitutional, the clock continues to tick on finding a path forward. House Democrats, along with the Governor and Senate leadership have met in good faith to come to an agreement that will allow us to improve our state. While House Republicans seem content with making “adjustments”, the people of Oklahoma deserve better.

A special session will cost around $30,000 per day.