Lawmakers were back at the state Capitol to work on finding a solution to the state’s budget hole.
The House of Representatives passed a series of bills that bridges about half of the state’s roughly $215-million budget deficit.
It turns out, the solution was there the whole time.
“That was just absolutely unconscionable,” said Representative Kevin Calvey (R) District 82. “To use people as hostages or a human shield in an effort to pressure us to vote for a tax increase. That’s what this was about. This could have been done day one.”
After hearing for a month about the, quote, “catastrophic” cuts we can expect to mental health and substance abuse services; and after failing to pass a number of tax increases on gasoline, alcohol, beer and oil and natural gas drilling to stave off those cuts, the House passed four bills to fund government with the money it already has.
“They’re using the bait and switch deal where they’re saying we need to pass this tax increase for these poor mental health patients. That was never true,” said Representative Calvey.
Representatives overwhelmingly voted to tap into excess cash from this year and the Rainy-Day fund to pay down about $106-million of the $215-million deficit. That deficit was caused when Republicans passed an unconstitutional tobacco tax at the end of last session.
Monday’s move means the state will have less money to pay down next years expected $400-million budget deficit.
“What are we going to cut next year? This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Representative Jason Lowe (D) District 97. “Absolutely ridiculous.”
The plan passed Monday would require some cuts, but not nearly as deep as we were told.
House Speaker Charles McCall released the following statement:
We have said repeatedly that we would not allow those three vital health agencies absorb the entire $215 budget shortfall. After weeks of attempting to find compromise on revenue raising options without success, House Republicans have decided to ensure our most vulnerable citizens will continue to receive assistance. We will continue to seek ways to fill the entire budget shortfall, but today’s actions ensure those health services and programs will continue without interruption into April of 2018. I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to take up these bills tomorrow and pass them quickly for the citizens of Oklahoma.
“I believed the governor when she said at the beginning of this that she would not sign on to anything that included cuts. I took her at her word,” said Representative Forrest Bennett (D) District 92. “I guess that’s my fault.”
Representative Emily Virgin (D) District 44 added, “And I think everyone in here can agree that we can do better and we must do better.”
The House also plans to increase the tax on older, so called “Legacy” oil and natural gas wells, raising about $40-million. Leaders say the remaining $60-million will be seen through cuts.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat (R) says the House never discussed its plan with the Senate, so he doesn’t know how much support it will garner.