Lawmakers are nearing the deadline to propose revenue-raising measures to fill Oklahoma’s $878 million budget hole. All budget and appropriations bills must be introduced before May 19.
What Happened At The Capitol This Week?
Lawmakers Continue To Search For Ways To Fill Budget Hole
“It looks like there’s a working agreement of sorts between House Republicans and House Democrats that would bring in about $400 million,” eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley said Friday in his weekly Capitol Insider conversation with Dick Pryor.
The agreement would include a cigarette tax increase of $1.50 per pack and get rid of a group of incentives for oil and gas companies. It would also include expansion of some tribal casino roulette and dice games, though that proposal later died in committee.
Sen. Mike Schulz, President pro tem of the state Senate, said he does not support an expansion of casino games on moral grounds. But members of the Senate Republican caucus said the idea should be considered.
State Rep. Mike Ritze Makes Proposal To Deport Immigrant Students
Oklahoma state representative Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, drew national attention when he proposed Thursday that non-English speaking immigrant students in Oklahoma public schools be deported if they are not in the United States legally.
Ritze argued this would raise money for the state, and estimated there are about 82,000 illegal immigrant students in Oklahoma.
Several members of the newly formed Republican Platform Caucus, of which Rep. Ritze is a member, challenged Ritze’s proposal. Rep. Chuck Strohm, R-Jenks, said the proposal was Ritze’s own idea, not one of the conservative caucus’ suggested revenue-raising measures.
Anti-Abortion Resolution Passes House
Lawmakers continue to take up legislation on social issues, including a House resolution passed the week of May 8 related to abortion.
If passed into law, the resolution would require courts in Oklahoma and other public officials to follow statutes and the will of the legislature on abortion. Anti-abortion activists in the state view the resolution as a move toward completely banning abortion in Oklahoma.
eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley said he anticipates the state’s Senate and House will continue to take up bills on social issues until the end of session May 26.
Special Session Question Looms
Legislators could face a special session if they cannot pass a state budget before the regular session deadline, but state Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate president pro tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus, say that scenario is unlikely.
“The part missing...is Gov. Mary Fallin,” Ashley said.
Fallin has said she will veto a budget if it does not contain sufficient revenue-raising measures, and the current tentative agreement in the House and Senate only raises approximately $400 million of the needed $878 million.
To close that gap, legislators would have to make significant funding cuts to state agencies. Fallin has previously expressed opposition to continued agency cuts. If Fallin vetoes the proposed budget, lawmakers would have to hold special session.
Full Transcript Of This Week's Capitol Insider
Dick Pryor: Shawn, we're heading into the final week when revenue measures must be passed. Any agreement on revenue measures to help fill the state's $878 million budget hole?
Shawn Ashley: At the present time, it looks like there's a working agreement of sorts between House Republicans and House Democrats that would bring in about $400 million. What this would do would be to increase the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack which would bring in $215 million. It would limit itemized deductions except for charitable contributions, generating another $100 million. And it would eliminate a group of oil and gas incentives that would produce about $45 million. The final component of that--and perhaps the most controversial--is an expansion of some class III games in Oklahoma which has posed a problem for the state Senate.
Pryor: Well, Senate president pro tem Mike Schulz has indicated moral objections to that.
Ashley: That's right. When the package was first presented to the Senate over the previous weekend, Sen. Schulz and his leadership team objected to the idea of expanding class III gaming in Oklahoma, and essentially said that they saw that as strings attached to the rest of this proposal.
However, as the week wore on, members of the Senate Republican Caucus said that that idea should be considered. And in the latter part of the week, they were discussing that and looking at it for possible inclusion. If that agreement could be reached, then you would have a three-way agreement between House Republicans, House Democrats and the Senate.
Pryor: What is the new gaming being considered?
Ashley: This would expand it to include dice and perhaps Roulette, additional games that would go on top of the slots and poker and other card games that are currently available.
Pryor: Broken Arrow State Rep. Mike Ritze had a novel proposal to raise money that generated a lot of reaction.
Ashley: Yes. Rep. Ritze is part of the OK GOP Platform caucus, a new caucus that was announced about a week ago made up of approximately 20 members. The caucus put forth a number of ideas for balancing the budget, and Rep. Ritze took that a little further as it related to immigrant students in Oklahoma public schools.
Specifically, he said those who are non-English speakers should be examined to determine if they should be here in Oklahoma and, if not, deported. He said that would be about 82,000 students.
Pryor: And there was a lot of pushback.
Ashley: There was a lot of pushback, including from some members of his own conservative caucus group, including Rep. Chuck Strohm, a Republican from Jenks, who said that was Rep. Ritze's own idea.
Pryor: Shawn, it appears there is more than expected talk about social issues late in the session, when legislators' thoughts normally are squarely focused on the budget.
Ashley: Well, nature abhors a vacuum and so does the legislature. When you get them on the floor, they're going to talk about something. And we saw this past week where a resolution related to abortion was on the floor, which essentially would say that the courts in Oklahoma and other public officials had to follow the statutes and the will of the legislature as it relates to that issue.
It is only a House resolution. It was approved; It does not carry the weight of law. But we have seen those discussions in other areas, like the the gambling issue related to the budget. So they will continue to rise all the way through May 26 when the legislature must adjourn.
Pryor: What are you hearing about a possible special session?
Ashley: It depends on who you talk to. Here we are, moving into that final period where they must approve revenue raising measures. Legislators like Senate president pro tem Mike Schulz are very confident. So is House Speaker Charles McCall as well as his second floor leader Jon Echols. They say they'll be able to get the work done. In simplest terms, they have to approve the revenue raising measures by May 19th. They then do have that final week in order to come up with a budget agreement.
The one part missing from that? Gov. Mary Fallin. Where does she stand in this? As we go back to our first question, the proposal that they seem to have a general agreement about only raises 400 of the $870 million. You would be looking at significant cuts as a result of that. And Gov. Mary Fallin has been very explicit in saying that she does not want to cut some of these agencies too much more in order to balance this budget.
Pryor: It truly is crunch time. Thanks, Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
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