Recess called while Oklahoma lawmakers prepare to battle it out over budget issues

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives halted the state’s special session Wednesday morning, saying they would not waste any more taxpayer money until Democrats and Republicans can come to an agreement on how to fill the budget hole.

Gov. Mary Fallin ordered the special session after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a cigarette fee passed in the final days of the regular session was unconstitutional. It left a $215 million hole in the state’s budget.

On Wednesday morning, both Republicans and Democrats pointed the finger at the other party as to why they can’t get the job done.

Republicans were expected to bring up the cigarette tax bill for a vote on the House floor either Wednesday or Thursday but admitted they did not have the votes to pass it.

"We are prepared to do this today. We need bipartisan support of the minority caucus of the House and this is done,” said Speaker of the House Charles McCall, (R) District 22.

"We think that the embarrassment that happened at the feet of the Speaker today hopefully bodes well that a bipartisan agreement is on the horizon," said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, (D) District 94.

Democrats said that agreement will have to include more than just the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax.

"That grand bargain as we're moving forward hopefully has a minimum of four components - a gross production tax, an income tax increase on high earners, a cigarette tax and then we would consider a fuel tax under the right circumstances," Rep. Inman said.

Democrats said they want the gross production tax at 5 percent, but Republicans are very clear they will not agree to that number.

"This Republican caucus cannot go to 5 percent. We believe 5 percent will cost jobs to the state of Oklahoma. That being said, we are willing to negotiate," said Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols.

This time around, both sides have been trying something different-  negotiating through the governor.

They said they will continue those talks until they can come up with a plan that would get the needed votes.

But, they do agree on a couple of things.

"It's important to us as a chamber as the House not to continue to incur great significant costs on a daily basis to the taxpayers of Oklahoma until we have that agreed upon plan," McCall said.

"The Oklahomans want this thing solved, they want a bipartisan solution, they want a gross production cost increase and they want the name calling and the finger pointing to stop," Inman said.

Once a plan is reached, the legislators would be called back into special session.

In order to meet constitutional requirements, that session would likely have to be held open for a couple of weeks after the agreement because any revenue raising measures cannot be passed in the final five days of a session. It would also have to pass by a 75 percent majority.