First Day Of Special Session Lasts 16 Minutes

Monday, September 25th 2017, 6:58 pm

The legislature met today for the first day of a special session called by the governor to bridge a roughly $215 million budget shortfall. It costs taxpayers about $30,000 for every day the legislature is in special session, but the house gaveled out after just 16 minutes without a deal. 

The state constitution says bills have to be heard three times before they can be voted on, so any bills to fix the budget crisis can’t be voted on till Wednesday at the earliest.

The governor called the special session after a last-minute tobacco fee passed by Republicans last session was ruled unconstitutional. The sticking points are the same as they were in regular session: Democrats are holding off on a tobacco tax unless Republicans agree to an increase in the oil and natural gas production tax called the Gross Production Tax.

Lawmakers are also discussing a motor fuel tax and income tax reform. “We’re in those negotiations and the governor has been warm to some of those talks,” Said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader. “We’ve not found a sweet spot yet from which we can all agree.”

Senate republicans outlined their plan.  It includes:

•             $1.50 per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, which generates $128.9 million.

•             a six-cent increase in the motor fuels tax, which generates $71 million.

•             the elimination of the wind manufacturer sales tax exemption, which generates $10.97 million.

House Republicans are also counting on the cigarette tax and dipping into carry over funds and the rainy day fund to pay for a teacher pay raise, but that still leaves the state about $75 million short.

“Where does that 75 million come from?  Cuts?” we asked House Speaker Charles McCall (R).  “Potentially. It depends. It’s about how serious this legislature gets about closing the gap fully,” McCall said. “The governor said she’d veto any agency cuts.”

We pointed out. “I did read that. I did read that,” McCall said. "So that still leaves us 75 million short right?”

We asked.  “Listen there’s going to be other things that are considered,” McCall replied.

Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader said, “It’s a novel concept, that if you want to increase teachers salaries you gotta pay for it. And to date we have yet to see the speaker offer up any reoccurring revenue to pay for it.”

Lawmakers will return tomorrow for another short day. Leaders have said if they can’t get the tobacco tax and the gross production tax passed in special session, they will kick it over to voters to decide.