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Oklahoma lawmakers debate over state’s “revenue problem” ahead of new legislative session

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Senate Republicans held a press conference Thursday to lay out their legislative agenda.

But all eyes are on the budget shortfall.

Lawmakers will have to deal with a nearly $900 million shortfall when they convene in February.

As Senate Republicans laid out some policy issues Thursday, there was one comment that got Democrats riled up.

“Understanding do we have a revenue issue or do we have an expenditure issue?” Sen. Jason Smalley said, addressing a question from the media.

“There was no admission that we have a revenue problem in this state. If we have a spending problem, we shouldn’t have a budget crisis. You just reduce spending and everything`s great,” Sen. Jonn Sparks said.

This is the fourth year in a row our state is facing a massive budget shortfall going into the new legislative session.

State Treasurer Ken Miller says a big part of the problem is the half a billion dollars in one-time revenue that keeps making it into the budget every year.

“It’s probably uncomfortable for some to say, but we do have a revenue problem in Oklahoma. For those who don`t want to use those words, I say that’s fine, you don’t have to say there is a revenue problem. Your actions are speaking louder than your words,” Miller said.

Republicans said they’ll take a look at tax incentives and eliminate excessive regulations to spur job growth.

“We’re also very excited about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. with our new administration. We’re hoping we’re going to get some flexibility on programs this year on how we spend our money,” Sen. Kim David said.

Bridging the budget gap won’t be easy, and experts say we can’t keep kicking the can down the road.

“We’ve got to get back on a path where our recurring revenues, those that come in every month - income, sales, motor vehicle, gross production - are paying for our recurring expenditures, those things we pay for every month. Right now we’re not,” Miller said.

The cigarette tax is expected to come up again this year to bring in revenue.

Even if lawmakers find new revenue, that may actually hurt us because with more money coming into the state, that means another tax trigger goes into effect automatically.

It was previously passed by the legislature.