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Oklahoma Lawmakers Gear Up For Final Week Of Session

Oklahoma state capitol
Jacob McCleland
/
KGOU

The Oklahoma Legislature is constitutionally required to wrap up by 5 p.m. Friday, and both House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, say they don't expect a special session as they grapple with a $1.3 billion shortfall.

Hickman said nothing on the legislature's agenda is more crucial than finalizing the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"We made a commitment at the beginning of this session that we would address this historic budget situation that our state faces, and I'm very hopeful that we will finish our business and adjourn,” Hickman told reporters Friday.

This week's to-do list also includes measures to allow most adults to openly carry guns without a license or background checks, a ballot measure to expand beer and wine sales in the state, a proposal to raise teacher salaries, a $125 million bond issue to repair and renovate Oklahoma's nearly 100-year-old Capitol and a possible attempt to override Gov. Mary Fallin's veto of a bill that would essentially ban abortion in the state.

State Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, says he hasn't decided whether to try to override the governor's veto of his bill that would have effectively outlawed abortion in the state. Dahm told the Associated Press on Saturday he would like to override the veto, but won't decide until Monday at the earliest.

Fallin vetoed the bill Friday, saying she opposes abortion but that the bill’s vague language wouldn’t survive a court challenge. Under the legislation, it would be a felony for anyone to perform an abortion, including doctors.

eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley and The Journal Record’s Capitol reporter, Dale Denwalt spoke to KGOU’s Jacob McCleland on Saturday at The Red Cup cafe in Oklahoma City. Denwalt said the previous week was tense.

“We went into the week knowing that the legislature would have to find a whole lot of money, which they hadn’t really done yet,” Denwalt said. “The Senate had passed some measures. The House, we were waiting to find out if they can manage to do anything, and eventually, the House managed to get some revenue out the door.”

The legislature passed three tax reform bills last week. One eliminates the so-called “double deduction” that allows taxpayers who itemize their taxes to claim the same deduction on both their federal and state tax returns. The double deduction reform bill is estimated to  generate approximately $90 million per year.

Another tax reform bill changed the state portion of the earned income tax credit from refundable to non-refundable.

“If you owed $20 in taxes and you had a $50 credit, we’ll say, not only would it zero out that $20 that you owed, you would get that $30 back,” Ashley said. “But under the bill approved this week, you will no longer get that $30 back. And that amounted to just under $30 million in total that won’t be going back to what Scott Inman called the working poor in Oklahoma.”

Legislators also passed a measure that would cap a tax credit for marginally-producing oil and gas wells that would have swelled to over $133 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Legislative leaders expect to be within $300 million of the $1.3 billion hole following those reforms, a $5 fee increase for drivers license plates and a plan to bond transportation projects to free up money for other uses. Under the transportation bonding plan, the state would take out bonds to finance transportation projects, freeing up money that would otherwise go to roads and bridges.

“It allows you to use that money that’s already sitting in the bank account, so you’re basically just switching how you’re going to pay for these road and bridge repairs,” Denwalt said.

Denwalt said the House wants about $300 million in bonds, while the Senate is considering $150 million.

Shawn Ashley said Senate Republicans are concerned about the bonding proposal because they would start the next year in a hole.

“That $300 million you essentially borrowed from the Department of Transportation via those bonds is no longer available unless you choose to issue another set of bonds,” Ashley said. “So you automatically begin the next fiscal year with a deficit.”

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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