GOP Announces Highlights Of Budget Package To End Special Session

Monday, October 23rd 2017, 11:15 am
By: Grant Hermes

The state GOP is close to pushing a budget through and ending the special session, a source told News 9 Monday morning.

According to a News 9 source close to the Republican side of the negotiations, their caucus had a fix for the state’s embattled budget, without needing votes from Democrats.

According to the source, the budget was a consensus between Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and the leaders of her party as a way to “fully fix the problem” of the state’s $215 million budget hole. Fallin announced the highlights of the deal at a press conference Monday morning. Democrats were not invited. 

The proposed budget includes at $3,000 teacher pay raise, a $1,000 pay raise for public employees, a reintroduction of the earned income tax credit refund. It does not, however, include an increase in the tax on the gross production (GPT) on oil and gas. 

Members have worked for nearly a month to reach an agreement across the aisle but talks while the fall’s special session has been in recess have proved fruitless. At the heart of the negotiations is whether to raise the GPT in the state. Republicans do not want an increase above the current 2 percent tax, Democrats said they will accept nothing less than 5 percent. The source said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, called anything below 5 percent “an insult.”

Fallin also said the package includes a $1.50 cigarette tax, a $0.06 fuel tax increase, revised taxes on alcohol and restore earned income tax credit. 

The source said the proposed budget is without Democratic votes or voices at the moment, but said Republicans would rather reach common ground. The plan will need a considerable amount of votes from across the aisle. The source said they weren’t sure if those were there but said 12 Democrats crossed party lines on the previous cigarette tax and added Republican members would begin lobbying Democratic colleagues.

“There are plenty of members who are sick of this crap,” the source said, accusing Democrats of stonewalling negotiations. “This is not how I would draft [the budget] but that’s kind of the point … I’ll vote to raise the GPT but the point is I’m not willing to let the state burn.” 

Democrats, however, who proposed a budget with more compromise based on limited information given to News 9, pushed back against early reports of bipartisan wishes.

“If compromise means giving the other side zero of the things they asked for, then yeah, great compromise.” Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said on Twitter, adding later the proposal was “completely regressive.”

The House Democratic Caucus released a full statement Monday, saying:

"Since we unveiled our Restoring Oklahoma Plan last March, the House Democratic Caucus has been clear that we will not support a budget deal that balances the state's checkbook on the backs of Oklahoma workers while refusing to ask the oil and gas industry to pay their fair share.

"It is obvious that this budget is meant to meet one objective, which is to find a way out of this budget shortfall without restoring the gross production tax on oil and gas wells. Instead of asking the oil and gas industry to pay a fair and just tax, Republican lawmakers would rather tax working class Oklahomans.

"We believe that offering teachers and state employees a pay raise while simultaneously raising their taxes to pay for the raise is both disingenuous and a terrible way to balance a budget. Our Caucus remains resolved that teachers and state employees deserve to be compensated fairly, but we will not support a plan that puts money in their right pocket just to take it back out of their left.

"As Republican lawmakers continue to play political games, Oklahomans are suffering due to cuts that are taking place to Oklahoma's various health care agencies. The House Democratic Caucus is demanding the Republican Caucus halt this plan, which only seeks to raise taxes on working Oklahomans, and come back to the table to build a budget that works for all Oklahomans."