Back to work: Gov. Fallin says special session for lawmakers is ‘the best option’

Oklahoma State Capitol building

Oklahoma State Capitol

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OKLAHOMA CITY – As the Oklahoma Supreme Court decides the fate of a fee that was passed last legislative session, Gov. Mary Fallin says lawmakers need to head back to work early.

Earlier this 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.

Authorities say the Department of Human Services would have received about $69 million, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would have received $75 million and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority would have received $70 million.

Officials say the agencies will likely run out of funding before the start of the legislative session.

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says it will run out of funding in November, while the Oklahoma Health Care Authority will run out of state funds in January.

DHS says it would only be able to make it until May.

Although the legislative session is not supposed to begin until next year, Gov. Fallin says lawmakers need to get to the Capitol to fill the budget hole left by the ruling.

“No money can be spent from any state fund unless the Legislature specifically appropriates it,” said Fallin. “Let’s be clear. The director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) does not have the authority to transfer monies to the affected agencies from different sources without legislation directing him to do so.”

According to the Oklahoma Constitution, no money can be paid out of the state treasury unless it is appropriated by law.

“A special session is the best option,” Gov. Fallin said. “Failure to meet in special session would mean $215 million would be cut mostly from these three state agencies. These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution.”

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