What should have been an opportunity for statesmanship has spiraled into a comedy of politics. The Senate, once again, is trying to fix that.
After the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned the cigarette fee that was passed by the legislature last session, the state found itself in a $215 million budget hole with three agencies (Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority and the Department of Human Services) facing a more than $70 million budget shortfall each.
The governor called the legislature into special session not only to fill the shortfall but to tackle other issues including a teacher raise, sales tax on commercial vehicles, and ways to avoid future budget failures.
Next, the governor lays out a “Grand Bargain” with a myriad of tax increases while offering no real efficiencies or spending cuts.
It was a disaster.
After weeks of negotiations, the House and Senate leadership came up with what has been termed the “A-plus Budget Proposal,” which includes a $1.50 tax increase on cigarettes as well as increased taxes on other tobacco products, a six cent per gallon increase on motor fuels, a raising of the gross production tax (GPT) on oil and gas from two to four percent. There are also budget cuts for many agencies in the package.
The House asked the Senate to request the House run the package, which includes teacher pay raises next year.
The Senate passed a resolution requesting the House run the package.
Following an interesting round of musical chairs in its JCAB (House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget), where multiple members walked the vote (walked away and didn’t vote) and nearly all Democrats voted nay, the House failed to pass the revenue bill out of committee.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) announced that the budget failure will force them to discontinue programs that help keep the elderly and those with developmental disabilities in their homes, and it has been discovered that the Department of Health has basically been running two sets of books and deceiving everyone about its fiscal condition. It now needs another $30 million.
So what happened next?
The House offered proposals that will use all of the state’s emergency funds and will leave us with a more than $600 million hole to fill in the next budget. It also doesn’t fix the funding issue at the Health Department.
We, in the Senate, decided to act like statesmen and stateswomen.
Despite the fact that many of us have issues with various aspects of the A-plus plan, we amended a bill the House had sent us previously with the language of the A-plus revenue bill with a truly bipartisan vote and we sent it back to the House asking them to put it up on the board and vote on it.
As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the House has run the original bill in their JCAB committee and voted 19-6 to put it up for a vote on the floor on Wednesday. I hope that is what happens.
I welcome your questions and concerns, so please feel free to contact my office at the State Capitol if you would like to discuss a particular issue or problem. Our office can be reached by phone at 405-521-5561 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you visit the Capitol, we are located in Room 527A.
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) was elected in 2016 as state senator from District 1, which encompasses the northeast corner of Oklahoma. The district includes Craig County, Delaware County, Mayes County and Ottawa County.