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’m hoping — wondering without knowing — if anyone is doing some serious planning for what will happen if the Oklahoma Supreme Court holds a substantial portion of the funding for the current state budget unconstitutional. Most of the legislative leaders I’ve heard speak since the adjournment last May have acknowledged without admitting that an adverse ruling is a pretty good possibility.
The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for the lawsuits challenging the revenue increases for August 8th. The Justices are likely researching and circulating opinions in advance of oral argument, and if nothing is said to significantly change their opinions, I think we can expect a ruling within a fairly short time after the oral arguments.
Since the fiscal year began July 1st, the state agencies are already depending on that money. If the court rules the funding unconstitutional, it will likely create an immediate revenue failure. Allocations of state funding go out to the various state agencies on a one-twelfth per month basis, so if there is a revenue failure, monthly allocations will be cut across the board in whatever percentage the court rules unconstitutional, plus whatever amount has already been spent that may have to be returned. The longer the court takes to rule, the more aggravated the problem could become.
If the legislature is required to go into special session to deal with the budget crisis, it would sure be a good thing if the governor and legislators have a plan. If they start from scratch and begin wrangling as they did during the regular session, throwing one potential tax increase after another against the wall to see if it sticks, the problem will simply get worse. It’s not only state agencies that will suffer, but schools and providers that contract with the state to provide state services — to say nothing of the Oklahomans who rely on the services. It’s a sobering prospect, and it will likely be happening about the time school starts.