Taking a deeper look at the latest special session call (Capitol Update)

The Oklahoma Constitution provides for a regular session of the legislature once a year, but last week Gov. Kevin Stitt called the third special session for 2023 to begin on Oct. 3. This follows two special sessions in 2022, one in 2021, and two in 2020. Special sessions are provided for in the Constitution, but they are called Extraordinary Sessions. If the name means anything, you’d think special sessions would be rare.

Looking at the governor’s call for a special session, it has three purposes. The first is to create a statutory trigger that automatically eliminates any state tax that a federal or state court holds to be inapplicable to any person by virtue of their race, heritage, or political classification. This is a continuation of the governor’s protest about the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision which held that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation remains intact for purposes of criminal jurisdiction. Stitt fears the decision could be extended to include state taxes. No such court decision has happened yet, and no one knows if it will. 

The second issue covered in the governor’s call is a state income tax cut — one that puts the state on a pathway to zero personal state income taxes. The governor called for income tax cuts during the last regular session, and the legislature declined. There has been no discussion with legislative leaders since the session ended. The House, through statements by Speaker Charles McCall, appears to be all in on most any type of tax cut. The Senate is not. A special session could be useful to keep the issue on the table and put pressure on the Senate. It will be interesting to see if the pressure tactic will work.

The third issue in the call cites a series of grievances the governor has about the appropriations process. Last session, he did not act on the general appropriations bill, allowing it to go into effect without his signature. Likely he knew a veto or vetoes would be in vain because the legislature had the votes to override, so he chose to be essentially a non-participant in the budget process. 

The specific appropriations issues in the call include calling for the legislature to pass: (a) a requirement that no general appropriations or spending limits bill be acted upon by the legislature or any committee without first being made publicly available in its final form for at least three legislative days; (b) statutory definitions for recurring revenue, non-recurring revenue, recurring expense, and non-recurring expense; (c) a bill to require the designation of expenditure type and revenue source as recurring or nonrecurring in any proposed legislation that involves the expenditure of any revenue, regardless of source; (d) a requirement that any legislatively directed spending be explicitly included in any general appropriations or spending limits bill; and (e) a bill prohibiting legislators or staff from attempting to influence agency expenditures outside of the legislative process.

Reading between the lines, these appear to be the governor’s complaints: He and his staff do not know all that is in the general appropriations bill until it passes; there is disagreement over what is or is not recurring revenue and expenses; the legislature is not explicitly stating the purpose of an expenditure in the appropriations bill, but instead is communicating to agencies the purpose of the funding. It’s difficult to imagine these grievances getting resolved through legislation in a special session.


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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