OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin issued an executive order last week calling for a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature for lawmakers to address the shortfall in the current fiscal year budget as well as develop long-term solutions to government inefficiencies and fund a pay increase for public school teachers. The legislature will convene Monday, September 25th.
Oklahoma Senate Prop Tempore Mike Schulz issued the following statement last week.
"All along, I've encouraged lawmakers to put Oklahoma's interests ahead of their own political interests. I'm encouraged by the ongoing work of the Senate and House toward reaching a budget agreement. I'm also encouraged by the public comments of the House Minority Leader who indicated ample members of his caucus would support a cigarette tax bill. I hope he is serious and that he can deliver. If given the chance, I'm confident the Senate can pass a cigarette tax bill. This is the clearest option available to address the $215 million budget hole. It's an idea that's been thoroughly vetted and one that could be considered quickly during the special session to help shore up funding for three important health care agencies. Additionally, the cigarette tax would improve health outcomes by reducing smoking rates and stopping young Oklahomans from ever lighting up - two things that will save money in the long run. The Senate continues to prepare for the special session and is ready to get to work to solve these problems."
Falling today issued the following statement on the upcoming session:
“This special session is an opportunity for lawmakers to solve lingering, critical structural problems in our state budget. I am hopeful lawmakers will consider thoughtful, realistic solutions in a timely manner. Many ideas have been fully vetted over the past couple of legislative sessions, so it really should be a matter of taking care of unfinished business.
“Certainly, the most pressing need is to address the immediate budget shortfall created by the loss of the $215 million cigarette fee revenue. The cigarette tax alone will not fill this year’s hole because it would be implemented much later in the fiscal year than originally proposed. We will need to identify other revenue sources to make up the difference. If we do not, additional cuts to core government services will occur.
“Additional cuts to agencies will further harm state services. I will veto a proposal that calls for cuts to state agencies. Also, sending the cigarette tax to a vote of the people is not an option. The earliest the issue could be decided by voters is June, the last month of the current fiscal year. It doesn’t fix the budget hole because it would not generate any revenue for this fiscal year.
“I hope lawmakers do provide a long-term solution to the state’s continuing budget shortfalls. It is apparent that rapid changes in our economy have created unsustainable and unpredictable revenue collection patterns. We need to seek long-term sustainability and stability as opposed to unpredictability and volatility. Our legislators must work to make more recurring revenue available, stop balancing our budget with one-time funds and come up with a teacher pay raise. Because of the use of one-time funds to balance this year’s budget, we are anticipating a $500 million shortfall next year. The limited focus and attention of a special session can allow us to address these long-term structural issues.
“My staff and I have been talking for many weeks with legislative leaders from both parties, and I will continue to work with them until an agreement is reached. Our challenges in front of us are difficult, but I am hopeful that, with great resolve and statesmanship, we will succeed.”
The Oklahoma Senate Democratic caucus issued the following statement through Senator John Sparks.
“The Senate Democrats have spent the last several weeks meeting with those involved in the upcoming special session of the legislature as well as those affected by the decisions made in this special session.
“Members of our caucus have held meetings with constituents concerned about potential cuts to core services or regressive taxes which will burden them disproportionately, we have engaged in negotiations with the Governor and her staff, Senate Republicans and House Democrats, and we have held a caucus meeting where we heard from the heads of the healthcare agencies facing the possibility of running out of money before the end of the year and being forced to cut services to some of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable people.
“After all these meetings, we are more sure than ever that this special session of the legislature needs to be swift and certain with real plans for recurring revenue for our state. Now more than ever, we know that the numbers don’t lie. We cannot simply show up on Monday, decide that finding hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue is ‘too hard,’ waste hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on a special session with no plan and no direction, and settle on across the board cuts that affect millions of hard working Oklahomans and their families.
“Now more than ever, we are certain that this is the time for a plan of action, actual compromise, true accountability and real results. This is the time for leadership and a long-term plan for our state and its people.
“We owe it to our constituents to focus on a long-term budget solution which protects the most basic, core government functions and services without balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the vulnerable. This is what our constituents demand of us and what they deserve from each and every one of us, with no exceptions and no excuses.”