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State agencies ask Gov. Fallin to call for special session following ‘cigarette fee’ ruling

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Oklahoma flags blowing in the wind at Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY – After the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a ‘cigarette fee’ was unconstitutional, many organizations are now reacting to the decision.

Senate Bill 845, which created an additional $1.50-per-pack cigarette fee, was expected to bring in more than $200 million. That money would then be sent to several state agencies to fund portions of their budgets.

“The Court has made their ruling and now it is up to the Governor and legislative leaders to agree on the best course of action moving forward. It is important to remember that the reason our budget has been suffering is because Oklahoma families and businesses have been struggling. State revenues are a reflection of the people of our state. When our citizens have less money in their pockets to spend the state will realize less revenues. I am a firm believer that government must live within its means. The tobacco fee for health care was passed in an effort to avoid significant budget cuts. After House Democrats refused time and again to support increased revenue measures, the fee was our only opportunity to balance the budget without deeper cuts. The minority party decided to play games with the budget, and now that opportunity has passed. I look forward to working with the Governor and the Senate to overcome this latest challenge,” said House Speaker Charles McCall.

“As one of the more conservative members of the Republican Caucus, and one of those who voted NO on Senate Bill 845, I commend today’s well-reasoned opinion by Justice Patrick Wyrick, and I’m encouraged by the initial reaction to the ruling by Speaker Charles McCall,” said Rep. Kevin Calvey.  “As the Speaker correctly notes, government must live within its means, just like families do.”

“In order to appease special interests, Republicans made a decision to ignore the House Democratic Caucus, Oklahoma citizens and the Oklahoma Constitution,” said Rep. Monroe Nichols. “As a result of that decision, we are now facing a $200 million hole in our current budget. It is time for the Republican Leadership to stop playing political games and to start working on real solutions to fund state government. As we have been all year, the Democratic Caucus stands ready to negotiate a long-term solution to fix Oklahoma’s funding crisis.”

Following Thursday’s ruling, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association asked Gov. Fallin to call legislators back to the Capitol for a special session.

“Oklahomans were let down by elected officials who hurriedly passed a funding gimmick instead of permanently addressing insufficient revenue. Citizens are fed up with officials who put politics before the people and communities in their districts,” said Sterling Zearley, OPEA executive director. “We have to raise revenue the right way now and not further damage core services provided by state agencies. We will not stand for more cuts to services because of this ruling.”

School officials agree that something needs to be done immediately.

“With the Supreme Court’s ruling today, it is urgent for our legislators to get serious about developing a sound budget for the state. CCOSA emphatically urges Gov. Mary Fallin to call for a special session as soon as possible. Every day that goes by without adequate, long-term funding for public education is a day that we short-change our children and our state’s future,” said Dr. Pam Deering, executive director for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.

Gov. Fallin says that she is disappointed in the court’s ruling, but will be working with legislators to find a way to fund core services.

“I am disappointed to hear the Supreme Court struck down the smoking cessation fee, but I certainly respect the justices’ authority. I will be discussing with legislative leaders from both parties the need to address the $215 million shortfall this will create for the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the three agencies that received the bulk of the money that was to be generated by the cessation fee.

These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution. My belief is we will have to come into special session to address this issue,” Fallin said in a statement.