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Democrats, Republicans negotiate on state budget shortfall fixes as deadline looms

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OKLAHOMA CITY - With a budget deadline looming, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders had little to say early Wednesday evening as they seek to find a compromise for the state's budget hole.

Spending several hours in the closed-door talks, House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders emerged from the governor's conference room at about 7:00 pm.

"Good," said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, of the conversations when asked. "We'll resume up in the morning."

"Absolutely," said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

McCall then offered up a handshake between the two house party leaders, to which Inman obliged, before walking down the hallway and up the stairs together.

A series of events between the two that seemed unlikely nearly 24 hours earlier.

House Democrats - and some Republicans - balked at a bill Tuesday night on the house floor that would have helped fill the state's $878 million budget hole through cigarette tax increases, motor fuel tax increases and shortening the time oil and gas wells receive rebates to 18 months.

Earlier Tuesday, House and Senate Republicans and Gov. Mary Fallin said the roughly $400 million package was a compromise, helping fund a $1,000 teacher pay raise; to which Democrats quickly called a "gimmick."

House Democrats have called on Republicans to back an increase to the state's gross production tax on oil and gas wells to unlock the Democrats' needed votes to pass revenue raising measures, like cigarette taxes.

"Let's put the easiest things on the table, and the things that we know that put us into this crisis," said Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City. "If we do that, house Democrats have said that they would work with house, senate Republicans and the governor on any other revenue measures they would like to see."

Two bills passed out of a house budget committee Wednesday that address teacher pay raises. Those could be taken up, along with several others, could be brought to the floor if a budget fix isn't reached.

"All of our hopes at this point are that those gentlemen can all sit in the room with the governor and get this done today," said Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget Chair Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang.

House members are expected to be at the capitol Friday. The legislative session ends next Friday.