OKLAHOMA CITY – While state lawmakers are still trying to reach a budget agreement, Gov. Mary Fallin says that time is growing closer to a special session.
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. However, officials say the loss of matching federal funds brings the total loss to nearly $500 million.
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.
“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.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Fallin announced that she plans to call a special legislative session to adjust the current fiscal budget later this month.
“I am planning on calling a special session beginning September 25 for legislators to adjust the current fiscal year budget. A formal call for a special session will be issued in the next few days, but I wanted to announce my intention to call a special session for planning purposes. I also want Oklahomans to know we are working diligently to address the fiscal matters of our state.”
House Minority Leader Scott Inman released the following statement after the announcement:
“While our caucus is grateful that Governor Fallin has begun preparations for a special session, we are still concerned that Republican leadership has yet to put forth a plan to fix the budgetary mess they have created. After almost a month since the Supreme Court ruled the cigarette “fee” unconstitutional, the clock continues to tick on finding a path forward. House Democrats, along with the Governor and Senate leadership have met in good faith to come to an agreement that will allow us to improve our state. While House Republicans seem content with making “adjustments”, the people of Oklahoma deserve better.
Today, we urge Speaker McCall to provide a detailed, bipartisan plan to ensure that the upcoming special session is productive and beneficial and not just window dressing to appease wealthy special interests at the expense of everyday Oklahomans. If the Speaker or others are interested in such a plan, House Democrats put out our Restoring Oklahoma plan in March, which can be found at www.oklahomahousedems.org/restoring-oklahoma-plan.”