Lawmakers Closer To Budget Deal, Still Battling Over Borrowing

Tuesday, May 10th 2016, 6:30 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

The State Legislature has just 10 working days left to bridge a $1.3-billion budget deficit and stave off massive cuts to hospitals and nursing homes.

On Tuesday in the House of Representatives, lawmakers listened to a jazz band perform and introduced family members to the group, but they didn't take up a single bill.

“It's disappointing,” said Rep. Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader. “It's nice to be able to honor folks and we did that today and we're grateful to be able to have that opportunity, but we certainly could have taken up other legislation this afternoon. We chose not to do that."

Behind closed doors, News 9 is hearing lawmakers are still miles apart in how much money to borrow to pay the bills. The governor suggested $500 million; the House says that number will be closer to $300 million; and the Senate says both are way too high.

That's the big sticking point right now. News 9 is told legislative leaders are getting closer to deals on tax credits and revamping Medicaid to fend off estimated 25-percent cuts.

"No. I can promise you that won't happen,” said Rep. Earl Sears (R) Appropriations and Budget Chair. “You know it will be literally anywhere from no rate cut to maybe the highest would be 6,7,8 percent."

The deal might include a $1.50 tax on tobacco. Republicans would likely need Democrats on board to get the plan passed. 

"What we despise more than raising cigarette tax is watching nursing homes and hospitals and providers go under for vulnerable citizens in the state of Oklahoma,” Inman said. “So we are currently in negotiations with the governor and house and senate leadership."

Sears isn’t so sure. 

"That one's a constant moving target in regards to the cigarette tax,” Sears said. “It's on. It's off. It's on. It's off. I mean, I’m just being brutally honest with you." Sears said.

News 9 did reach out to the governor's office. A spokesman tells us, as a rule, she doesn't comment on budget negotiations.