Special session: House recesses until budget agreement is reached

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma lawmakers say they are recessing to give themselves more time to negotiate a budget deal.

Last month, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a $1.50-per-pack ‘cigarette fee’ was unconstitutional after lawmakers passed the revenue raising measure in the final five days of a legislative session without a 75 percent majority vote.

The fee was expected to generate $215 million for several state agencies.

As a result, Gov. Mary Fallin ordered lawmakers head back to the Capitol during a special session to fix the budget shortfall.

“Certainly, the most pressing need is to address the immediate budget shortfall created by the loss of the $215 million cigarette fee revenue. The cigarette tax alone will not fill this year’s hole because it would be implemented much later in the fiscal year than originally proposed. We will need to identify other revenue sources to make up the difference. If we do not, additional cuts to core government services will occur,” Governor Mary Fallin said.

The special session, which began on Monday, is expected to cost taxpayers about $30,000 a day.

On Tuesday, HB 1099, which is similar to the cigarette fee, passed out of the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget by a vote of 19-9.

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.

The vote did not go completely along party lines. Two Democrats voted for it, and four Republicans voted against it.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Charles McCall said that the House will recess to allow the Legislature and the governor to continue negotiations.

As you can imagine, lawmakers are still divided on how exactly they want to fill the budget gap.

“It is clear that House Democrats continue to play politics and do not intend to vote in support of the cigarette tax to address the budget hole created when the Supreme Court struck down the cigarette fee. The Court was clear that the Legislature must pass the tax with a 75 percent majority vote. House Republicans stand ready to deliver 75 percent of our caucus to pass the cigarette tax, but House Democrats have so far given no indication that they are willing to deliver 75 percent of their caucus so we can pass the tax and use other resources to fill the hole. The cigarette fee is what the Court struck down, so the first priority is to address that by passing the cigarette tax.

“House Republicans do have a plan to address the hole without House Democrats, but we will need the support of the governor and the Senate, who we have continued to negotiate with this week. While we are closer to an agreement, we are not going to waste $30,000 a day negotiating. We pledge to continue negotiating in good faith with the governor and Senate, but we are going to do that off the clock. When there is an agreement in place, we will return and take care of the people’s business,” McCall said in a statement.

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