Recent reports suggested a deal on nearly a $1 billion in new taxes and fees may be coming to a close but state leaders say it's just not true.
The State Supreme Court ruled a $1.50 tax on cigarettes imposed by the legislature in the final days of the session is unconstitutional, so lawmakers will likely have to return in special session to bridge that gap. Leaders have been meeting behind closed doors, but say they're nowhere near a deal.
"We asked the governor for some specifics," said Representative Scott Inman (D), House Minority Leader, "any of those that she particularly liked or disliked. She said it was a little premature at the time and she wanted to wait."
The governor's chief budget negotiator, Preston Doerflinger, released a statement saying, "No agreement has been reached between the governor and any legislative party. To suggest we are even close to a deal is incredibly premature and irresponsible."
And House speaker Charles McCall released a statement saying, "There is never a shortage of rumor and innuendo surrounding negotiations at the Capitol... Minority Leader Scott Inman has no interest in negotiating in good faith with the governor or anyone else."
"It would appear to me that somebody within the house republican leadership probably leaked this plan as a way to try to torpedo or sabotage the current budget negotiations," Inman said.
As for negotiations, Inman said his caucus wants an increase in the gross production tax; that is, the tax on oil and natural gas production.
"Unless gross production tax increases are on the table we're going to find it very difficult to achieve the revenue and thus the agreement."
Representative Bobby Cleveland (R) Cleveland County replied, "Why would I want to vote for it? Why would I want to tax more taxes on to the oil and gas industry? They've done more than their fair share for Oklahoma."
House majority leader Mike Sanders also responded to Inman, releasing a statement:
Scott Inman can’t have it both ways. He claims House Leadership is not communicating with him, yet he has not returned a phone call from Speaker Charles McCall from last week nor has he replied to a letter from the Speaker from three weeks ago. To insinuate that House Republicans are not communicating with him is simply not true. Mr. Inman certainly likes to hold press conferences and issue press releases. It sounds to me like he needs to check his voicemail and his mailbox or perhaps take a break from running from governor in 2018 and start governing for 2017. That would be a nice change.
If House Dems think they can raise $1 billion in new taxes they are not living in reality. Mr. Inman and his caucus are not going to raise taxes on Oklahomans by $1 billion, and they know it. The reason they know it is because House Republicans will not let that happen.
If Mr. Inman wants to act in good faith, I suggest he pick up the telephone and call Speaker McCall. Grandstanding, political carnivals and wild-eyed accusations are not the way to govern. If Mr. Inman wants to meet with the Speaker, I strongly suggest he walk down one flight of stairs and go to the Speaker’s Office. If he is not familiar where the Speakers Office is located he can call me and I will show him. But I would suggest he not go to the Speaker’s office with a plan to raise taxes on Oklahomans by more than $1 billion.
The governor has indicated a special session will be necessary, but only after the State Supreme Court has ruled whether other revenue raising measures are constitutional.