Still No Budget Agreement Days Before Special Session

Thursday, September 21st 2017, 6:21 pm

The governor is ordering the legislature to return to session Monday to fill a roughly $215 million budget shortfall. But as of right now, there's no plan.

The state faces the shortfall after the Supreme Court struck down a last minute tobacco tax passed by republicans after negotiations broke down with democrats. Democrats refused to support the tobacco tax without an increase in the gross production tax; that is, the tax on the production of oil and natural gas.

House democrats say they'll support the gross production tax going to a vote of the people because they don't believe it will get the three quarters majority votes needed to pass in the legislature. Republicans feel the same about the tobacco tax. 

"I think it's an appropriate response if something can't get three-quarter votes to send it to a vote of the people and I think that's something both parties agree to," said House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols.

But that still leaves the budget $215 million in the red.

Echols says that means a combination of tax reform, efficiencies and targeted cuts. 

"I think you're going to see some issues with school administration consolidation. No closing of schools, but how can we find efficiencies there?" Echols said.

"I think you're going to see bills filed to put money into the classroom to make sure it's going to the teacher where it needs to go and it's going to the student."

Echols says special session is also an opportunity to look at the tax code.

"We have one of the most  complicated state income tax statutes in the nation. It's hard to imagine drafting a more complex and more convoluted state income tax system than what we have."

Echols says the House of Representatives is also committed to finding a way to fund teacher raises. That will cost around $60 million a year. Legislative leaders plan to work through the weekend on a deal.


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