OKLAHOMA CITY – More than eight months after legislators passed a budget, parts of which were later ruled unconstitutional, and further attempts to fix the problems ultimately lead the state to its current second special session, the house took the first steps Monday to possibly close the books on a tumultuous year through agency cuts after a tax hike package failed early last week.
The agency appropriations bill, House Bill 1020, quickly passed on the house floor Monday afternoon, 67-24 along party lines, cutting agency appropriations by roughly $44.6 million for the final three months of the FY 2018 budget.
“Based on the amount of time we have left in the year and the funds we have available, at this time, there’s not enough months…to try to be more selective and start holding agencies flat,” said Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, during questions on the floor Monday.
House majority leaders say the bill was a response to the failure of a massive tax increase plan that failed to reach the required 76 votes last Monday, which would have covered agency funding, as well as teacher and public employee pay raises.
Voting for HB 1033, part of the Step Up Oklahoma plan, remained at 63-35 for hours last week. The measure would have imposed additional taxes on tobacco, motor fuel and wind energy. It would have also raised the gross production tax (GPT) on all wells from 2 percent to 4 percent.
If passed, supporters said the money would go towards giving teachers a $5,000 annual pay raise with $20 million used to balance the Fiscal Year 2018 budget deficit. The legislature is just weeks into its regular session as a second special session runs concurrently, after a budget plan from the first special session late last year was mostly vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin.
“It’s disappointing. It’s certainly disappointing,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, who voted against HB1020 Monday.
Kouplen said it’s promising that Republicans — who control both chambers and the governor’s office — acknowledge the need to raise revenue, but says it’s frustrating as agencies are again caught in the middle.
“I would assume most of these agencies have been conditioned to be ready to receive additional cuts,” Kouplen said.
House Speaker Charles McCall releasing a statement late Monday night rebutting house Democrats alleging that the agency cuts are unnecessary.
“The House of Representatives has been discussing the Fiscal Year-2018 budget for well over a year now, and we are simply out of time to provide revenue to help those agencies avoid cuts,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Over the last year, House Republicans have put numerous packages on the board to provide revenue to stabilize our state agencies and provide a pay raise for our teachers, and House Democrats have refused over and over again to help our caucus pass those measures.”
News 4 reached out to several agencies most impacted by the proposed appropriations cuts and have either not heard back or estimates haven’t been compiled yet.
More than $6.8 billion was appropriated for FY 2018 in the bill sent to the governor’s desk last spring. However, after the state supreme court ruled a cigarette fee unconstitutional, it forced legislators to return to the capitol last fall to try and fill the hole created by the ruling.
After attempts to raise revenue failed during the first special session, a bill including agency cuts and state cash passed the house, senate and sent to the governor’s office. However, hours after the senate approved the bill, Fallin vetoed most of it. A second special session convened in mid-December.
Following the passage of HB 1020 Monday, house lawmakers also approved sending more than $140 million to the state’s medical school programs and a human services bill ensuring certain waiver programs, services and provider rates remain funded.
The measures now head to the senate and, if passed, go to the governor’s office for signing.