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Secret votes and unwillingness to lead are prolonging Oklahoma’s budget stalemate (Capitol Update)

by | October 20th, 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.

What’s going on with the special session?

I’m reliably informed that Republican House members, in their caucus meetings, have discussed and voted on 27 different budget scenarios. Of the 27 proposals, none have received more than 39 votes, and some received as low as 8 votes. What are these 27 budget proposals? We don’t know because party caucus meetings are held behind closed doors. And it has become a tradition that caucus members are in violation of some sort of honor code it they reveal what’s said in caucus. This is to allow free and open discussion among party members, the theory being that legislators will be afraid to bring up controversial, possibly unpopular, ideas if anyone outside the room finds out they did so. This is not a particularly admirable quality of the legislative psyche, but it’s a nod to reality. The real problem, however, is the caucuses taking these votes which then are accepted as the policy of the state while constituents have no way of knowing how their representative voted.

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What happens ‘when push comes to shove’ on the budget (Capitol Update)

by | October 13th, 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.

There’s a phrase that most people have heard or used: “when push comes to shove.” Generally, this means there’s a standoff, and the question is, “what’s going to happen when push comes to shove?” Well, in the special session, push has come to shove. Both the Republican majority and the Democratic minority say they want to raise revenue for state operations — at least enough to avoid further budget cuts during the current fiscal year ending next June. But the time is quickly coming when the agencies most affected, the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will be running out of money unless they make the cuts.

The argument is pretty much where it left off last May. Here’s the “push”: Republicans want an increase in the cigarette tax of $1.50 per pack and perhaps a gasoline tax increase as the bedrock of their revenue-raising plan. But even with a 2/3rd-plus margin in the House, they cannot pass these tax increases without Democratic votes. Too many Republican legislators will vote “no” on their own party’s position.

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Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session

by | October 10th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Matters | Comments (8)

See this advocacy alert for more info on what you can do to influence lawmakers during special session.

Although the Oklahoma Legislature has convened numerous special sessions in recent decades, none has dealt with issues as sweeping and consequential as the current one. This set of Frequently Asked Questions is intended to help Oklahomans understand the rules guiding the process and the issues being addressed. It will be updated regularly as the session continues.

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New poll finds Oklahoma voters want comprehensive revenue deal in special session

by | October 6th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (2)

A new poll shows a large majority of Oklahoma voters (67 percent) want lawmakers to pass a comprehensive revenue plan in special session that avoids further cuts and funds a teacher pay raise and other critical needs. That compares to just 15 percent of voters who want only a tobacco tax increase without other revenue options and just 11 percent who say the legislature should not pass revenues and allow budget cuts to take effect. Increasing the cigarette tax, raising income tax rates on the highest earners, ending the capital gains tax break, and increasing the initial oil and gas production tax are all options for raising new revenue that a majority of Oklahomans support.

The poll of 400 Oklahoma registered voters was commissioned by Oklahoma Policy Institute and conducted by nationally-respected opinion research firm Global Strategy Group. The full poll results and a memo from Global Strategy Group are available here.

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Reasons for optimism about special session (Capitol Update)

by | September 29th, 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.

With special session underway, it’s rational to be cautiously optimistic that schools and state agencies will make it through this fiscal year, which ends next June, without further budget cuts. Remember, the current state budget has cuts in it already when compared with last year. And this has been true each year for the past several years, to the point that nearly everyone in a leadership position has recognized the need for additional revenue. The process broke down during the regular session over how much was needed and who ought to be called on to pay increased taxes.

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Bills filed in special session put many options in play

by | September 26th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

Yesterday was the first day of the special legislative session called by Governor Fallin to fix Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems. One day in, the outcome of special session is still very much up in the air. With so much at stake, it’s an essential time for Oklahomans to call, write, and visit lawmakers. Read on for analysis of the bills filed so far and what you can do to influence the result.

Although Governor Fallin promised to veto any budget that makes further cuts to state agencies, House Speaker Charles McCall continues to insist that the only revenue on the table will be another try at a cigarette tax. At this point in the year, the cigarette tax by itself will only close about half of Oklahoma’s current budget shortfall. And if the Legislature still does not have a three-fourths majority needed to pass the tax, sending it to a vote of the people means the soonest it could go into effect would be 2019, far too late to avoid life-threatening cuts to health care.

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Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them

by | September 18th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

Governor Fallin has officially called the Oklahoma Legislature into a special session beginning September 25 in order to fix the state budget, which has a more than $200 million hole due to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s rejection of a cigarette fee. However, the specific way that lawmakers address the budget hole is still up for grabs, and various state leaders have laid out very different visions of what they hope to come out of it.

Even before the court threw out the cigarette fee, Oklahoma’s state budget massively underfunded core services. The budget was worsening the teacher shortage, forcing the closure of senior nutrition sites, cutting support for foster families, taking money out of child support, and not even beginning to undo the damage to our communities caused by years of cuts. On top of that, its use of more than $400 million in one-time funds has already dug a large budget hole going into next year. With the upcoming special session, lawmakers have a second chance to fix the budget by passing widely-supported revenue options.

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It’s time to revisit State Question 640 (Guest Post: Rep. Marcus McEntire)

by | September 5th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (10)

Rep. Marcus McEntire

Marcus McEntire is a freshman Republican legislator representing HD 50 (Duncan). A small business owner, he attended and graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in communication studies, earned a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and earned a Master of Arts in Sociology from the University of Virginia.

When I was elected to the House, I knew the job would be challenging and there would be many obstacles. But at the end of my first legislative session, I realized there is a certain well-intentioned constitutional provision in place that proves to be an extraordinary hurdle to effective legislating.  

This hurdle is State Question 640, which voters approved in 1992. SQ 640 changed Oklahoma’s constitution to require either a majority vote of the people or a three-fourths majority vote in the Legislature to raise any tax.

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Statement: Court ruling confirms that Oklahoma lawmakers have good options to fix budget in special session

by | August 31st, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Press Releases & Statements | Comments (1)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on today’s Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling upholding a law that partially ends the state sales tax exemption for auto sales:

​The court’s ruling confirms that lawmakers have numerous options to fill the budget hole in special session and prevent devastating cuts. Now that the court has established the scope of the problem, lawmakers must return to special session as soon as possible with the political will to come together and pass solutions.

Lawmakers should continue to seek a three-fourths supermajority to restore a cigarette tax, reverse recent income tax cuts for very high incomes, and restore the gross production tax. In addition, this ruling means that they can use special session to repeal tax exemptions with a simple majority. Lawmakers should take a serious look at ending tax breaks that do nothing for average Oklahomans, like the more than $100 million tax break for capital gains of wealthy stockholders and commercial real estate owners. Lawmakers have good options to not only prevent life-threatening cuts to health care, but also to finally meet widely agreed-on needs like a pay raise for teachers and other public workers.

If lawmakers wait until regular session to address the budget hole, it will already be too late to approve new revenues and protect core services this year. They will have failed in one of the most basic responsibilities that we elected them to do. Unfortunately, it’s regular Oklahomans who would pay the price.

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If lawmakers wait until regular session to fix the budget, it will already be too late

by | August 29th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (1)

Now that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has thrown out a key part of the budget passed by lawmakers earlier this year, it’s clear the lawmakers must return to the Capitol for a special legislative session to fix the problem. Oklahoma faces a major crisis if lawmakers don’t replace the cigarette fee revenues thrown out by the court that provided more than $200 million to cover basic health care and protections for vulnerable children, seniors, and people with severe disabilities. The court has also not yet announced their decision on whether partially removing a sales tax exemption for auto sales was constitutional; if they rule that it wasn’t, another $100 million plus will disappear from the budget.

Some lawmakers and anti-tax activists have suggested that we can wait until the regular session in February to fix the problem. That’s a bad mistake for a few reasons. First, even if agencies can get by without cuts until then (which is not at all a sure thing), it would create huge uncertainty and fear among those Oklahomans who depend on the three agencies most affected by the loss of the cigarette fee. That means foster families and children, low-income seniors who rely on state nutrition sites, and people with mental illness would be living with months of anxiety over whether their services will survive.

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