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Try, fail, repeat, success? (Capitol Update)

by | February 23rd, 2018 | 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 what was termed the last hope for raising revenue this session, HB 1033XX, failed to reach the three-fourths majority needed to pass without a vote of the people. With 14 weeks left in the regular session, House Speaker Charles McCall and Majority Leader Jon Echols have said they are finished with revenue-raising measures for the session. Echols said it was like banging their heads against the wall. But 3½ months is an eternity to spend in session making brutal budget cuts to a budget that nearly everyone agrees is seriously deficient without looking at revenue options.

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As legislative session begins, the first business is cleaning up last year’s budget mess (Capitol Update)

by | February 9th, 2018 | 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 legislative session started Monday, and it may be one of the most difficult ever. Legislators must clean up the budget mess left last year – which means supplemental appropriations for the health and human services agencies – before beginning this year’s budget. There should be some help there from the strong revenue finish the last few months of last fiscal year, but there is still a substantial shortfall to deal with.

The big item will be next year’s budget which will require, if it’s done right, tax increases. The good news is all except the most ardent anti-taxers recognize the problem. The bad news is there are quite a few ardent anti-taxers in the House where a tax bill must begin. Further difficulty will come from trying to agree on how much and which taxes to raise. The business community’s Step Up plan has given legislators, at least the Republicans, cover to raise taxes so long as legislators do not stray too far from their recommendations.

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‘Step Up’ revenues are only the first step needed to fix Oklahoma’s budget problems (Capitol Update)

by | February 2nd, 2018 | 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 House and the Senate appropriations committees have continued their budget hearings looking at agency requests for next year’s state budget. In addition to the recent request by DOC director Joe Allbaugh for an additional $1 billion, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has weighed in with a request for an additional $474 million. The needs of both agencies are well documented.

Just these two agency requests add up to nearly $1.5 billion, leaving nothing for human services, mental health, higher education and a multitude of other state services. The Step Up Oklahoma proposal for $749.7 million in revenue is a good start, but it’s just a start. For example, the Step Up plan calls for $285 million for a $5,000 teacher pay raise. The remaining $367.7 million revenue is to be spread out among all the agencies for “essential services and budget stabilization” and $100 million to fill this year’s budget gap.

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Oklahomans don’t want to pay what it costs to keep incarcerating so many (Capitol Update)

by | January 26th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (7)

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.

In preparation for the upcoming session, Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh appeared before the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that are responsible for crafting next year’s DOC budget. He cited Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics showing Oklahoma is again number 2 in overall incarceration of our citizens and number 1 in incarcerating women. We are holding in prison 673 per 100,000 Oklahoma residents. The national average is 397 per 100,000. If Oklahoma incarcerated our people at the national average, there would be 11,020 fewer inmates in our prisons at a cost of $48 per day. Doing the math, if we were just average in incarceration, neither high nor low, the savings to the state budget would be $193 million!

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‘Step Up’ Coalition adds to the conversation, but plenty of work left to do (Capitol Update)

by | January 19th, 2018 | 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 were significant developments this past week regarding the budget crisis. A group of about 70 business leaders who voluntarily associated themselves together under the name, “Step Up Oklahoma,” has announced agreement on revenue increases amounting to $790.7 million from multiple sources.

The largest amounts would come from the $1.50 per pack cigarette tax ($243.9 million); individual income tax “reform” ($175 million); a 6-cent per gallon motor fuel tax increase ($170.4 million); and increasing the gross production tax from 2 percent to 4 percent during the first three years of production ($133.5 million.) Smaller amounts would be generated from increases on other forms of tobacco, a new wind generation tax, reducing transferable and refundable tax credits, and allowing new kinds of gambling with dice and cards in tribal casinos.

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Keeping all school taxes local would break our obligation to rural kids (Capitol Update)

by | January 12th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | 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.

An idea has surfaced again recently that, since the state will not or cannot properly fund public education, local school districts should be allowed to go it alone and fix their own finances, perhaps somehow with the help of cities or counties. This is not an original idea. Since I’ve been observing or participating in civic life for the past several decades, this same idea, born of frustration, comes and goes. People care about their local schools because they care about their kids. Not only that, communities depend on the quality of their schools to attract new businesses and the new residents who are employed by them. So, when their local schools suffer, people want to solve the problem. Completely understandable.

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What will it take to force action on passing recurring revenue? (Capitol Update)

by | December 15th, 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.

Chinese water torture is a process in which water is slowly dripped onto a person’s forehead allegedly making the restrained victim insane. It’s been found to be quite effective, capable of causing emotional cracks within a short time even in a controlled environment. Legislators must be wondering if this is Governor Fallin’s latest tactic to force action on passing recurring revenue measures.

To review, on August 10th the state Supreme Court ruled the cigarette fee passed last session to be unconstitutional, thus creating an unbalanced budget. After nearly a month, on September 6th the governor announced she would call a special session to deal with the Supreme Court ruling. But the governor didn’t say when the session would start. Later, on September 15th she issued the call to begin on September 25th and added a range of issues, including a teacher and state employee pay raise. After weeks of on again, off again session the legislature, having passed only a small amount of recurring revenue, passed a measure to appropriate cash on hand and cuts to various agencies, then adjourned on November 17th.

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The 2018 legislative process has begun (Capitol Update)

by | December 8th, 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.

Today is the deadline to make a request for drafting of a bill to be introduced in the next legislative session. For those actively involved, including members of the Legislature, the governor, state agencies, schools, interest groups, businesses and others, this means the 2018 legislative process has begun.

This first deadline will be followed quickly by a series of deadlines, including the dates for introduction of a measure, getting the bill out of committee, and passing it on the floor. Then the same procedure in the opposite chamber will have deadlines. Finally, conference committee reports will have to be filed by a certain date, and the legislature itself has a deadline of the last Friday in May to complete its work. Once the process starts everyone involved must “buckle up” because the process moves at a steep pace.

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Oklahomans left guessing by actions in special session (Capitol Update)

by | November 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | 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.

I can’t imagine that any Oklahoma citizen not participating in or observing full time the actions in the special session has any real idea of what is going on or why. Even for those who did observe or participate in the proceedings, it’s a guessing game.

For background, the governor issued a special-session call that, if passed, would create a vision of Nirvana in which: 1. the short-term revenue failure for this fiscal year; 2. the long-term structural budget deficit; 3. additional funding for a teacher pay raise; 4. additional funding for a state employee pay raise; and 5. a tax break for the trucking industry would all get done in a brief special session. Unrealistic? Ya think?

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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 (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.

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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