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Oklahoma lawmakers take another shot at cigarette tax

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s the first step toward filling our state’s budget hole, and it comes on the second day of the special legislative session.

HB 1099 would charge a tax of $1.50 per pack of cigarettes.

It’s a very similar bill that landed legislators in the special session in the first place.

The state supreme court ruled the cigarette “fee” passed in the final days of the legislative session was unconstitutional because of the timing and because it did not pass with a 75 percent majority.

That left a $215 million hole in the budget, and it’s the reason Governor Mary Fallin ordered legislators back to the capitol.

HB 1099 passed out of the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget on Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 19-9.

"I think that it makes good common sense to pass this. Number one for the health care reasons, number two you talk about saving money. Someone who quits smoking will save $2,000 a year,” said JCAB Chairman Kevin Wallace (R) District 32.

Rep. Wallace said the measure would bring in roughly $120 million.

During the debate before the vote, both Republican and Democratic representatives voiced concerns about the bill.

"This was filed about three minutes before the meeting started. This is your first bill as chairman. And, I know you have some desire to set a high standard for transparency in the committee. But, why not give us more time so that we can understand the implications of the committee sub?” asked Jason Murphy (R) District 31.

"It was three minutes before the beginning of this hearing, two days into special session before we saw any real language about any plan, and this plan doesn't even solve the real problem," said House Minority Leader, Scott Inman (D) District 94.

"I find it interesting that we cannot find bipartisanship to vote for the things we supposedly all agree upon," Wallace said.

The vote did not go completely along party lines.

Two democrats voted for it, and four republicans voted against it.

Some of the republicans who voted against it have stated they are opposed to raising any kind of taxes and think other measures should be taken first.

"We should make appropriate cuts, and there are cuts to be made, and send any and all tax increase proposals to a vote of the people, because that is where it belongs," said Rep. John Bennett (R) District 2.

Inman again voiced concerns many Democrats are not willing to support the cigarette tax if Republicans will not agree to raising the gross production tax on oil and gas wells.

Wallace said republicans are willing to look at other options but they feel the cigarette tax needs to pass first.

He warned about the cuts to agencies if this fails.

"We have cuts right now. They're going to four agencies. The three big ones are DHS, health care and mental health. If we do nothing, trust me, you have cuts - 7, 10 and 23 percent,” Wallace said.

Now that the cigarette tax passed out of committee, that clears the way for the entire house to vote on it.

That could happen as early as Wednesday or Thursday.

But, many said the bill will not get the necessary 76 votes to pass the full house.