House Again Falls Short In Vote For Oklahoma Budget Fix

Wednesday, November 8th 2017, 6:39 pm
By: News 9

A plan to hike taxes on tobacco, alcohol, fuel and energy production in order to plug a hole in Oklahoma's budget and to stabilize state spending has fallen five votes short in the House amid bipartisan opposition.

The full House voted 71-27 on Wednesday for the bill. A total of 76 votes were needed to pass a revenue-raising measure out of the House. Both Republicans and Democrats opposed it.

The bill would have generated $140 million in funding to help plug a hole in the current budget. It would ultimately generate about $450 million annually to help pay for a $3,000 pay raise for teachers, a $1,000 boost for state workers.

House Speaker Charles McCall issued the following statement following the failure of HB 1054X on the House floor:

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.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OEPA) Executive Director, Sterling Zearley, issued the following statement on the failure of HB 1054X:

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.

Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime issued the following statement on budget bill vote:

Once again, political gamesmanship and partisan politics have won the day at the expense of Oklahoma children and families. Holding out for a perfect plan when a strong compromise is on the table is incredibly short-sighted.

I urge state leaders not to let today’s vote be the final word. Cutting core services, raiding agency revolving funds and relying on one-time money is irresponsible, immoral and unacceptable.

I appreciate the majority of representatives who courageously voted yes today. For the sake of our state and its people, our elected leaders must come together for a solution.

Oklahoma Senate Democratic leader John Sparks, D-Norman, issued the following statement:

Today’s failure of the ‘A+’ revenue package is undoubtedly disappointing and frustrating. However, now is not the time for us to give up and settle on cash and cuts as a short-term fix for our long-term budget problem. Now is the time for us to redouble our efforts, push forward, and find a new path to a long-term budget solution which will protect the most basic, core government functions and services.

Today, too many members of the House decided they did not support the ‘A+’ Plan.  I believe there are only three reasons for a no vote on this plan: a preference to use cash on hand to plug the current budget shortfall; a preference to further cuts to the budgets of Oklahoma’s agencies; or a preference to pass a different revenue package.

Today, more than ever, I am certain that cash and cuts are not a viable option for our state and the future of the core government functions and services on which our most vulnerable constituents rely.

I am convinced that we cannot just use cash on hand to continue the budgetary shell games which have flourished at the Capitol over the last decade.  Just this week, our intention to use the last of our limited cash to fill our long-term budget hole triggered Moody’s to downgrade Oklahoma’s fiscal status.  They noted that using the last of our cash might help for a few months, but Oklahoma’s ‘inability to pass a comprehensive and permanent solution is credit negative.’ In addition, it was reported last month that Oklahoma’s current financial situation is so bad that we are one of the three states least prepared to handle an economic recession. Using one-time cash resources to fill our budget hole may ease the pressure to truly fix our budget problem, but it does nothing but highlight our ongoing fiscal mismanagement and inability to pass a comprehensive, long-term budget solution for our state.

I am also convinced that there is no more room for cuts to core government services. We have cut to the point where we have four-day school weeks, a reduction in the Eight-Year Transportation Plan and we are facing the elimination of the ADvantage Waiver Program, which will force thousands of senior citizens out of in-home care and into nursing homes.

For those who do wish to implement more cuts, I am asking you to show us where you wish to do so in your own district.  Don't answer with the evasive and rhetorical 'fraud, waste and abuse.'  Do you want to consolidate your schools or to turn four-day school weeks into three-day school weeks? Do you want to take roads and bridges in your district off the repair list permanently? Do you want to permanently close state parks or OSU Extension Offices or CareerTech Centers? Are you willing to cut funding for Meals on Wheels or senior nutrition centers or veterans hospitals? If you aren’t willing to support new revenue, now is the time to itemize, in your district, where you are willing to implement permanent, recurring cuts — not one-time cost savings.

Finally, I am convinced that since neither cash nor cuts are responsible options for Oklahoma, the final alternative is to come back with another revenue plan in the coming days. This option is the most responsible, but it is also the one that requires the most work from us. I know we are all tired. I know we all have jobs and families who we are neglecting while we are here. But if you are a legislator, or a constituent, or a stakeholder in business which opposed today’s option, then we need you to help us put together another plan which will receive the necessary level of support from the citizens of Oklahoma and their legislators.

We all owe it to our constituents to reject cash and cuts as our only options and continue to work toward 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.

Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz commented on the failure of HB 1054X on the House floor:

Because the Oklahoma House of Representatives did not advance the bipartisan revenue deal, teachers and state employees won’t get a much-needed pay raise and cuts to mental health and other services will be much more severe. The cuts will be deep and spread out across all government. This is not where any of us wanted to be, but we are here because the revenue bill failed in the House. The financial scandal at the Health Department is an unexpected and costly expense. If we spend everything we have now, there won’t be any money left for other emergencies that could arise. And spending even more one-time money now makes next year’s budget deficit - already forecast at $560 million - even larger. The Oklahoma Senate will work to minimize the impact of cuts on core services.

This is a developing story.

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