A look back at the 2022 session (Capitol Update)

Throughout the years, quite a few legislative sessions have looked like they were going to end in a “trainwreck.” But they usually come together toward the end with legislative leaders finally agreeing with each other and — to a greater or lesser extent with the governor — on a few major items including the state budget. There’s usually time for everyone to take a victory lap and give the session a high grade. It looked like the same would happen this session, but this year was different.

For starters, Senate leadership was unable to get its voucher system sending public money to private schools passed on the Senate floor. They were unhappy with the House because the Speaker announced early on the bill would not be heard in the House. Some felt this gave cover to senators inclined to buck the leadership. Another issue promoted by Senate leadership — eliminating the Judicial Nominating Commission and giving the governor sole authority to fill judicial vacancies with legislative confirmation — got out of the Senate but reached a dead end in a House conference committee.

On the House side, various tax cut proposals by House leadership passed the House in early stages but appeared to be never on the Senate’s radar screen. Other disagreements from time to time put the two bodies at odds, but no more than usual. Even with these issues occasionally roiling the House-Senate relationship, budget writers for the two bodies labored on. A budget agreement came later than normal, but finally arrived and was passed in both chambers in time to preserve the legislature’s option to override any vetoes.

But then Gov. Stitt, in what Speaker McCall called a “glory-mongering tantrum,” vetoed a couple of budget bills — neither of which, by the way, is necessary to make the budget work — and called a special session for June 13 to pass two general tax cuts costing the state hundreds of millions in future revenue. Never mind that’s two weeks before the primary election in which some legislators have opponents, while he’s been up on the air with commercials for several weeks against no well-known or well-financed primary competition.

The legislature responsibly demonstrated the restraint, in a revved-up oil economy, to withstand the temptation to make costly general tax cuts that would rob the state of its ability to meet future needs. The boom-and-bust oil economy in Oklahoma has occurred enough in the past that one would have to be willfully ignorant of the state’s history to rely on temporary surpluses as an excuse for large general tax cuts. Hopefully the legislature will make short shrift of the governor’s June 13 special session and address the state’s tax structure in future legislative sessions.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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