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.
Now, the failure of the revenue-raising bill is gaining reaction from across the state.
“By not passing the revenue package today, the Oklahoma House of Representatives chose to neglect core state services provided by our state agencies and in our schools. It is clear that the influence of tobacco and oil companies on many house members is stronger than their desire to fund services their constituents rely on. Several lawmakers voiced support for core services during debate and we appreciate those who did then voted for the measure. They understand how this bill, while not perfect, was a step in the right direction. Those who voted no seem to be okay with service cuts and starting next year with a larger deficit. We will continue to advocate on behalf of state employees, retirees and the services they provide through state agencies, despite the inaction of the house to support core state services,” said Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
“Today’s vote made it clear where our legislative leadership’s priorities lie. As our fellow Oklahomans, many of them disabled or elderly, looked on, the legislature, headed by Speaker McCall, voted to enact devastating cuts to core services. I’m tired of waiting for our state’s leadership to do the right thing. As governor, I’ll go directly to the voters, and I’ll give them a chance to raise the gross production tax to seven percent. I want to commend the Democratic caucus for delivering more than 75 percent of its members. It’s disgraceful that the Republicans couldn’t do the same,” said former Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
“Today’s defeat of HB 1054x is a huge blow for Oklahoma’s dedicated teachers, public servants and the citizens of our state. It is an understatement to say we are disappointed. The citizens of Oklahoma deserve elected officials who represent their best interests. That clearly wasn’t the case today. We are extremely grateful for the support of the courageous legislators who put aside their political loyalties to support the bi-partisan bill. CCOSA members will continue to fight for a long-term funding solution for public education, including a teacher pay raise, and the restoration of funding to support our state’s most vulnerable citizens.” -Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration
House Speaker Charles McCall also released a statement saying, “As we have said throughout the session, the 75 percent super majority requirement of State Question 640 is a high hurdle. We heard from our constituents more on this bill than any other in a long time, and it was clear that the House listened and voted the way their constituents encouraged them to vote. The bill passed with a large majority, which makes it eligible to be voted on by the people of Oklahoma at the ballot. 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. 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.”
“Exactly one year ago, after the defeat of State Question 779, our dedicated teachers were assured that the State of Oklahoma would not abandon its promise to provide regionally competitive pay. The longer the teacher shortage crisis goes unanswered, the more devastating its effects will be. Our kids continue to pay the price. I am exceedingly grateful for the 37 Senators and 71 House members who courageously stood up for our students and educators by voting for the bipartisan measure. We must not lose hope. We can’t give up. We stand with Oklahomans who demand and deserve so much better,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
Governor Mary Fallin also released her statement Wednesday evening after the bill failed.
“I’m extremely disappointed by the House of Representatives failing to pass House Bill 1054X, which would have addressed a $215 million shortfall in our current fiscal year budget and provided a teacher pay raise. It is discouraging that some members have chosen politics over taking care of people by refusing to vote for this budget package and have shown they are not willing to move our state forward. As a result of their no votes, our state will not have enough funds for agencies to deliver services that work for people, especially with our state facing a $400 million shortfall next session. I appreciate Speaker Charles McCall for allowing members to vote. Representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, who stood tall and voted for this measure should be commended.
As a result, worst-case scenarios could become reality for several agencies that are being forced to cut crucial services if the pending revote fails. It will be devastating for many who depend on these services. This budget package would have helped set us on a path to long-term sustainability and stability by making more recurring revenue available, helped us to stop balancing our budget irresponsibly with one-time funds, and provided a teacher pay raise as well as a raise for state employees, and tax relief for low-income Oklahomans.
The House leadership captured the bill, which with 71 votes was within a razor-thin margin of passing. The speaker should put it back up for a vote, and I call upon Oklahomans to continue to contact their representative. We can’t set Oklahoma up for failure by not facing our budget problems and kicking the can down the road. We must restore hope, and set future generations of Oklahomans up for success.”