The best vote a legislator can cast in special session (Capitol Update)

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 recently heard a well-regarded Republican legislator say that he was not sure he would vote to adjourn the special session if something is not done to raise revenue to deal with the state’s chronic budget deficit. Yes, you read that right. He may vote “no” on a motion to adjourn the special session sine die — in other words to just quit and go home — unless the Legislature has passed revenue measures to deal with the budget deficit.

This leads me to believe there has been thinking and some talk among Republican legislators of finding a way to deal with the gridlock between their leadership, the Democrats, and the governor on revenue. It leads me to believe that there may be the possibility afoot that most legislators, both Senators and Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, might choose to exercise the vote they were elected to make by refusing to accept more budget cuts, moving money around from one starving state agency to another, and robbing various funds as the way the legislature should do its business.

It takes only 51 of 101 votes in the House and 25 of 48 votes in the Senate to defeat a motion to adjourn sine die. I have no doubt a majority exists in each chamber who want to provide adequate revenue for the state budget. They are prevented from doing it because the leadership, the Democrats and the governor are unable to reach an agreement and allow a vote. But just a simple majority of members in each chamber can tell their leadership to stay at work until the job is done.

Some may say there’s not enough time in a special session. Hell yes, there’s time. You’re there and there’s nothing else to do. Some may say staying in session without an agreement is a waste of taxpayer money. Think about that for a minute. It’s estimated that the daily cost of session is $30,000. How much taxpayer money is wasted by state employee turnover and retraining, by teachers being educated in Oklahoma and then taking their talents to Texas, Colorado or Kansas? How much taxpayer money is wasted by lack of health and mental health treatment that send people to prison, the hospital, the welfare office, and living on the streets?

The problems created by “saving” $30,000 per day cost taxpayers millions every day, year-round and every year. It’s not a waste of money to have the Legislature at work doing its job unless the Legislature is not doing its job. Some would argue the wasted $30,000 per day was the money spent during the last regular session that resulted in another round of robbing various funds, more budget cuts, the passage of flawed revenue measures and kicking the can down the road. The best vote a legislator can cast in the upcoming special session is a “no” vote on adjourning, giving up, and quitting without getting the job done.

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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.

One thought on “The best vote a legislator can cast in special session (Capitol Update)

  1. Maybe it’s time to let the leadership pay the price for not doing their job…
    Like loss of salary, or getting to pay for the special session with their own money.
    As it is, and as one of their employers, I’m calling for mandatory drug tests for everyone in the legislature. Maybe excessive drug use is the reason they are unable to perform the job they were hired to do.

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