Funding bill aimed to tackle state budget crisis fails on Oklahoma House floor

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OKLAHOMA CITY – A funding bill aimed to tackle the state budget crisis failed on the Oklahoma House floor.

The measure, known as House Bill 1054X,  did not reach the necessary votes Wednesday with 71 members voting in support and 27 members against it. The bill included a $1.50 tax on cigarettes, $0.06 increased tax on gas and diesel, new taxation on low-point beer, plus a 4% gross production tax (‘GPT’) on big oil and gas wells for 36 months.

Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City has been vocal on his opposition of the bill. On the House floor Wednesday, he questioned why lawmakers weren’t auditing agencies instead.

“Why are we even considering tax increases when we haven’t even gotten to the bottom of the waste? Won’t that just pump money in the swamp?” Rep. Calvey said on the floor.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma admitted the measure had its flaws but argued it was necessary to end the special session and give Oklahomans a resolution.

“This bill is not perfect. You’ve heard that on both sides of the aisle. One side of the aisle said it’s not perfect. This side of the aisle said it’s not perfect. On that, we agree. Let’s take that agreement and move forward with that,” said Rep. Dunnington.

Opponents of the bill including Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville said the bill was simply not something they could support.

“I cannot in good conscious vote to increase a tax burden on my fellow Oklahomans until all cost cutting measures in reducing the inefficiency have been taken and explored. Until then, my vote must be a no,” said Rep. Cleveland.

Speaking to members of the press right before the vote was officially closed, Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City said democrats had done their share of the bargain. According to Walke, about 80% of the House’s Democratic caucus had voted in favor of the bill. 70% of the Republican caucus had voted in support.

“We did what we said we would do from day one, which is compromise. They [republicans] haven’t,” said Rep. Walke.

In response to Wednesday’s vote,  President Pro Tem Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus said cuts will be more severe because of the failure to pass.

“The cuts will be deep and spread out across all government. This is not where any of us wanted to be, but we are here because the revenue bill failed in the House. The financial scandal at the Health Department is an unexpected and costly expense. If we spend everything we have now, there won’t be any money left for other emergencies that could arise,” Sen. Schulz said in a statement. “Spending even more one-time money now makes next year’s budget deficit – already forecast at $560 million – even larger. The Oklahoma Senate will work to minimize the impact of cuts on core services.”

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka said leaders have been aware a majority vote would be a ‘high hurdle’ from the start.

“It is time to move on to what can pass and help this year’s budget. Last week, the House — in four bipartisan votes that all received more than 90 percent support — sent several appropriations measures to the Senate that would use existing cash to ensure vital health services and programs will continue without interruption into April 2018,” Speaker McCall said in a statement. “We also approved a bill that would increase the gross production tax to 7 percent on more than 6,600 existing wells and generate $48 million for this year’s budget. I encourage the Senate to act quickly to pass those measures for the citizens of Oklahoma.”

While the bill did not pass the House as a revenue raising measure Wednesday, it can be eligible for a vote by the people on a future ballot since it did reach more than 71 votes.

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