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A test of leadership for Speaker McCall (Capitol Update)

by | May 12th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

With only two weeks of session remaining (one week to pass revenue bills), legislators seem determined to paint themselves into a corner. This week, the logjam needs to be broken. There is nearly unprecedented support, almost demand, for increased revenue. This is not because Oklahomans have suddenly become a population of tax-and-spend liberals. It’s because the combination of tax cuts, the decline in record-high oil prices, and reliance on a hoped-for quick economic recovery have created a crisis. The cupboard is bare, and everyone except the willfully blind can see it.

In our kind of government there are times when each of our leaders must take his turn at leading. This is a genuine test of the nascent administration of House Speaker Charles McCall and his leadership team. Speaker McCall, in his fifth year in the legislature and first year as Speaker, is at the helm of a sinking ship of state. If it’s not apparent now, it will be in a few weeks if the Legislature doesn’t act. It’s not his fault, but it is his turn. The House must start the revenue-raising process, and if they don’t do it, nothing can happen.

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House and Senate vacancies should make passing revenue bills easier (Capitol Updates)

by | May 5th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (3)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Several revenue-raising measures were introduced last week, and at least some will soon be making their way to the House and Senate floors for a vote. The revenue bills were introduced in the House and must be passed by 75 percent of the members of each chamber to become law. Discussion continues between House and Senate leaders and the governor’s office on which revenue bills to bring to a vote. A consensus seems to have developed that more revenue is necessary, but the debate now is over how much and how to raise it. A 75 percent vote on any controversial issue is a high bar, but it was intentionally created for revenue bills by the Oklahoma Constitution as the result of SQ 640 passed in 1992.

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Are we breaking ‘free at last’ from anti-tax dogma? (Capitol Updates)

by | April 28th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Free at last! There was an interesting exchange on the House floor last week between Rep. Earl Sears, Chair of the House Finance Subcommittee and Democratic Leader Scott Inman. Sears was presenting SB 170 repealing the income tax cut that could have been triggered by a slight uptick in the economy. Sears explained that if the tax cut were to occur it would cause a larger hole in the budget.

Inman, unable to resist the opportunity to needle Sears, asked him if it is true, as Republicans say, that tax cuts produce more tax revenue, why would we repeal a potential tax cut? Sears replied that we are just dealing with the facts as they are, and we can’t afford this tax cut now. He said the Republican Caucus will get back to “good tax policy” when the economy permits. The bill passed 75-12 with Inman and other Democrats voting “yes.” All 12 “no” votes were Republicans, and 9 of the 11 “excused” from voting were Republicans. Some of those 9 excused were out of the chamber on other legislative business, but some were likely “walking” the vote.

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There will be some revenue bills passed, but the question is how much? (Capitol Update)

by | April 21st, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

The work of the standing committees is finished for this session. Bills now have one week to pass the floor of the opposite chamber to remain alive. At the same time, the appropriations and budget process is in full swing from now to the end of session. It’s complicated this year — as it has been for the past several years — because the budget cannot be balanced without revenue increases or unacceptable budget cuts. So, at this point, having taken no action on either, legislators have no idea how much money they are working with. How much revenue can be generated must be settled first before the budget picture can become clear.

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Fog has yet to clear on state budget (Capitol Updates)

by | April 14th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Nine weeks down and seven weeks to go in this session, and the fog has yet to begin clearing on the FY-18 budget outlook. House appropriations Chair Leslie Osborn sent a shot over the bow recently when she asked agencies to report what they would do with a 14.5 percent budget cut. The results reported by most agencies were unacceptable by most any measure. But there still exists no public proposal by legislative leadership for a package of revenue measures that would come close to closing the budget gap.

It seems clear that a deal has been made to end the 10-year, fifty one-hundredths of one cent ($0.0050) tax credit earned on every kilowatt of electricity produced by wind facilities going into production after July 1, 2017. The credit is a refundable tax credit, which means it’s money that is paid directly out of the state treasury, and it has cost more than was ever anticipated. This, however will have no impact on the FY-18 budget so it will be no help in solving the budget gap. The budgets it will affect will occur in FY-19 and beyond.

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Another shoe to drop on state finances? (Capitol Update)

by | April 7th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

I have a feeling there may be another shoe to drop when it comes to the state’s finances. Last week it came to light that the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) has been borrowing money from the Rainy Day Fund to pay the state’s monthly obligations. And they have done so to the point that the Rainy Day Fund is totally depleted. OMES is the finance office for state government through which the money flows, and it is under the direct control of the governor.

Those in charge at OMES say they had the authority to do this, and it’s all okay so long as the money gets put back by the end of the fiscal year. That’s because the money is supposed to be available to appropriate. 3/8ths of the money is should be available for appropriation in next year’s budget because next year’s certification of funds is less than this year’s. Another 3/8ths should be available for immediate appropriation if there is a revenue failure, not to exceed the amount of the revenue failure. And finally, the last 1/4th of the fund should be available if the governor and Legislature by 2/3rds vote to declare an emergency.

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Lawmakers are finally starting to look at revenue options (Capitol Update)

by | March 31st, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Last week saw a flurry of bills meet the deadline for floor passage in their house of origin. With so many bills and last-minute amendments jammed into one week, it’s difficult even for legislators to keep up with what happened. But generally, legislators peeled away another layer of the onion and now have until April 13th to get bills out of committee in the other house. Then, by April 27th Senate Bills must pass the House floor and House Bills must pass the Senate floor.

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As we near halfway point of legislative session, still waiting for solutions on big issues (Capitol Update)

by | March 24th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

“Hourglass” by Jamie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

This past week was spring break week for most of the state’s schools, so the Legislature worked a short week. The goal was to give legislators more time with family and a chance to get away for a few days with the kids if it worked out for them.

It’s hard to get away during session, and most members don’t want to miss roll call votes. Missed votes are always good fodder for opponents in the next election. Many of these early votes aren’t the final vote on a bill because they’ll likely be amended in the other chamber and come back for another vote for final passage, but even so an absence counts as a missed vote.

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Legislature’s timid approach to a teacher raise doesn’t bode well for schools (Capitol Update)

by | March 17th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

I watched the House floor debate on HB 1114 by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow) raising the minimum salary schedule for Oklahoma teachers by $6,000 over the next 3 years. The raises would be $1000 next year followed by $2000 and $3000 respectively in the next two years. The bill contained no funding, but Rep. Rogers said funding would be considered by separate measures later in the session.

It was gratifying to listen to all the debaters-for and against-recognize both that teachers should be paid more money and that operational expenses for courses, textbooks, technology, and many other aspects of funding for schools also needs more money. Those who debated against the bill did not debate against the need for teacher raises but against passing a bill only for teacher raises and with no funding.

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Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates)

by | March 9th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee.

SB 364 and HB 1730 mirrored each other and would have reformed the bail bond system for pretrial detention. Many Oklahoma courts operate on a schedule-based bail system. A monetary bond is set based on the accused’s alleged offense with little or no consideration given to the accused’s personal circumstances. Thus, bond has the opposite effect than that for which it was intended. People who have no money stay in jail even though they are at little risk of failing to appear for court or being a danger to someone or the community. People who should remain in jail are released because they have the money to get out, free to abscond or hurt someone.

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