Stars not aligned to accomplish much in special session (Capitol Updates)

chaotic road signs

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. You can find past Capitol Updates archived  on his website.

One has to wonder where Governor Fallin is headed with the announcement that she is considering a special session of the legislature. The purpose of the session would be to give a pay raise to teachers using the funds that were withheld from all state agencies, including schools, due to an anticipated revenue failure. In addition, the governor said “other funds” could be made available. Since about every bookkeeping maneuver available was used to deal with this year’s shortfall, presumably the “other funds” would come from some sort of tax increase.

It’s pretty difficult to imagine a tax increase that couldn’t pass during the regular session now passing with an election looming in about 100 days. The only way I can see it happening would be to re-litigate some of the compromises legislators were unwilling to make only two months ago. The Democrats wanted Medicaid expansion or repealing the recent tax cut in exchange for supporting the cigarette tax. Are the Republicans more likely now to give on those issues or to offer some other compromise that would attract Democratic support on a tax proposal?

With the current makeup of the Republican caucus, it’s going to take nearly all the Democrats in the House to pass tax increases. Current leaders seem unwilling to acknowledge that gives them at least some bargaining power. Beyond that, is the governor ready to apply pressure to legislators of her own party during an election campaign? I don’t think that’s been her history. Since it doesn’t seem the stars are aligned to really accomplish much at a special session, the best bet would be to have the election and see what kind of legislature she gets to work with next February.

The situation is complicated by the fact that an initiative is on the ballot to increase the sales tax for a $5,000 raise for teachers and to fund other parts of education. If that passes it will probably resolve the teacher pay issue for a while. But if it fails it may signal to future legislatures that the people do not support increased taxes for education. It’s hard to blame the governor for wanting to take charge of the situation. But the idea of shifting away money that was unnecessarily withheld from other important areas of state services is not gaining much traction. And Governor Fallin may not have many willing partners in the battle it would take to achieve significant accomplishments. It seems like with a special session now she may be dealing herself a weak hand.

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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.

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