The state legislature has just eight working-days to fill a $900 million budget hole and lawmakers admit it doesn’t look promising.
Today, members of the House of Representatives were supposed to discuss expanding oil drilling, but at the last minute the bill was pulled by the House Speaker. “He said per his instructions pull it for today and we will have a discussion later this afternoon. So I’m not sure,” said Representative Leslie Osborn (R) Canadian County. “Will that be on the agenda tomorrow? I have to say I’m not sure.”
Democrats are fighting for an increase in the gross production tax; that’s the tax on oil and natural gas production. “From our perspective, if we’re going to do a long lateral bill which is essentially helping out big oil and gas companies in the state of Oklahoma then they’re going to have to bring gross production tax to the table,” said Representative Jason Dunnington (D) Oklahoma County.
Representative Osborn said, “I think that the senate has made it very clear that they intend to keep those issues separate. But for anybody to say that it’s not a consideration at a year where we have only really raised $51 million of new revenue with a one billion-dollar budget shortfall that everything’s on the table - it’s still everything is on the table.”
This week, House Democrats said a plan to raise more than $400 million - that included expanded gambling - was scuttled by Senate Republicans. Senate Republican leadership denied it. “There was no agreement that happened last night,” Senator Mike Schulz President (R) Pro Tempore told us yesterday. “There was another proposal that was floated out.”
Today, House Republicans say there was a deal that included house speaker Charles McCall and Minority Leader Scott Inman. “We had a great deal.” Osborn said, “We had worked a deal between McCall and Inman to actually bring a $425 million tax package to the table. The senate balked on the gaming portion and basically set us back.”
As for expanded gaming, Representative Osborn said, “At the end of the day if this was something that would unlock us to save our state, keep rural hospitals open, to fund schools, to make sure that we keep the wheels going, I’m in favor of it.”
A senate committee did pass the bill expanding drilling.