Special session update

Posted on: 10/11/17

As of Tuesday, Oct. 10, there appears to be no state budget deal, according to House Republican Floor Leader Jon Echols. The state Capitol building will be closed for construction work the week of Oct. 16. Legislative leaders and the governor will continue to meet to see if an agreement can be reached prior to the Dec. 1 deadline for cuts to be implemented by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, and the Department of Human Services.

OHA’s recent press releases, Action Alerts and Hotline articles about the special session are on the OHA website on the State Advocacy page.

Rep. Echols said the House will not reconvene until the week of Oct. 23 when the Capitol re-opens as no budget deal has been struck. However, legislative leaders will continue to meet. House Democrat Leader Scott Inman announced a bipartisan budget deal in a press conference last Thursday. Following the Democrat’s press conference, Gov. Mary Fallin made it clear in a public statement that no budget agreement had been made. 

“Let me just start out by stating bluntly, there is no budget deal,” said Fallin. “First off, if I had reached a budget deal, I would have announced it.” 

Floor Leader Echols, speaking for the House Republican leadership, said the House Republicans are working on a deal, but it is nothing like the one Inman presented because there are not enough votes in the Republican caucus to pass a 5 percent gross production tax on new wells. This proposal, like the $1.50 cigarette tax increase, would require a supermajority (76 House votes and 36 Senate votes).

The plan that Inman is proposing, according to Gov. Fallin, is a “worksheet of previously discussed ideas” that her office provided to legislative leaders to consider in the special session. She admits being disappointed by the lack of progress. On Wednesday, Sept. 27, Gov. Fallin presented the items on the “worksheet” for consideration to each House and Senate political caucus, not as a package, but as individual items for consideration. While caucus deliberations are confidential, it is believed that many of these proposals did not receive the support necessary to achieve enough votes in the House Republican caucus for a revenue deal even among themselves. 

The focus of attention has been on the efforts of the House Republican caucus and meetings with their 72 (one vacant seat) members in trying to see what will garner enough votes to put a revenue deal together. Revenue raising measures must start in the House of Representatives. Echols openly admits that his caucus is working on a package that could include “maybe some sales tax exemptions, maybe some tax reform, maybe some cuts” and some efficiencies that “everyone can get on board with.” Such proposals likely would require only 51 votes, he noted. The goal, he said, is to have an agreement with whomever is necessary for a plan to pass.

In related news, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority has begun the process of reducing provider rates to accommodate the $70 million in state funds that were lost from the agency’s SFY18 base appropriations when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the smoking cessation fee unconstitutional. (Lynne White)

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