It looks like the legislature is closer to a deal on bridging a $215 million budget shortfall and staving off massive cuts.
Today a House committee passed what is essentially the same bill passed by the Senate yesterday.
We’ve been told, without a deal, outpatient mental health and substance abuse services will cease, impacting 189,000 people; and frail elderly and handicapped Oklahomans will lose the services that keep them in their homes. Thousands have contacted lawmakers and lawmakers felt the pressure. Yesterday, the Senate passed a budget bill to bridge the gap by raising taxes. Today a House committee passed a similar bill.
“When good times do return, we need to go back and reduce some of these taxes that we’re increasing today. We have that opportunity,” said Representative Earl Sears (R) Tulsa. “We can do that.”
The bill includes a $1.50 per pack tax on cigarettes, a six-cent-per-gallon increase on the tax on fuel, an increase in the tax on low point beer and an increase in the production of oil and natural gas. The new taxes fill the budget hole and pay for pay increases for teachers and state employees. Opponents say this is unnecessary, and that the state can pay its bills with the $1.3 billion it has in revolving funds.
“It’s absolutely unconscionable to put more anxiety, needless anxiety, on top of people who are already vulnerable. That money’s going to be there with or without this bill,” said Representative Kevin Calvey (R) District 82.
“I think it’s absolutely disturbing and disgusting that many people who rely on vital state services have made to be placed in a state of fear unnecessarily,” said Representative Eric Proctor (D) Tulsa.
Tomorrow the bill goes to the full House of Representatives.