Covering The Capitol: Legislative Week in Review
OKLAHOMA CITY - This was the first week of the regular legislative session, and state lawmakers wasted no time getting to work.
Normally this time of year, lawmakers are debating policy issues. But with two massive budget deficits, they got right to work on looking for a long-term solution. Their solution is a $712 million tax plan, the largest in the state’s history.
“It’s designed to put our state on a fiscally stable path, bring about much-needed reform, give our teachers a $5,000 pay raise, and frankly, to break the gridlock.”
Within three days that gridlock was broken, and lawmakers were debating the plan in committee.
“Myself, as a Republican," said Rep. Todd Russ (R-Washita County), "this is probably one of the most uncomfortable positions that I’ve been in in many, many years and if I vote for this, I’ll hold my nose and do it in the name of the greater good.”
The plan calls for an increase in the tobacco tax, including a $1.50 more for a pack of cigarettes, a six-cent increase in the fuel tax, and an increase in the tax on oil and natural gas production from two to four percent. The money raised would close the budget hole and give teachers a $5,000 raise.
“I think it is a good revenue package that does put us on a much better path looking forward as a state,” said President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus).
Backers say it will give breaks to the poor and middle class by restoring the earned income tax credit and freezing the current standard deduction. Opponents say the plan is moving too quickly.
“We’re in the first week of the regular session now,” said Rep. Eric Proctor (D-Tulsa), "to move forward without having a compromise now, just having what’s basically a political game taking place."
The full House is expected to vote on the measure Monday.