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Lawsuit filed in gubernatorial-legislative dispute over tribal compacts

After two vetoes are overridden, Governor Kevin Stitt asks the Oklahoma Supreme Court for ruling on whether the legislature has authority over state-tribal compacts.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the legislative special session concluded last Monday with the House joining the Senate in voting to override Governor Stitt’s veto of a bill that extends the state tobacco compact with Native American tribes for one year. That led the governor to file a lawsuit against the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem with the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking a declaratory judgment. What does the governor want the court to do?

Shawn Ashley: Governor Stitt is asking the court to throw out House Bill 1005X, which permits the motor vehicle registration compacts to be extended, and Senate Bill 26X, which allows the tobacco compacts to be extended. The governor's suit says the bill should be declared void as a matter of law.

Dick Pryor: What's the governor's argument and how are legislative leaders responding?

Shawn Ashley: Stitt’s attorneys raise several points. First, whether the legislature can meet in special session while it already is meeting in regular session and whether the bills were consistent with the legislature special session call, which focused on writing the fiscal year 2024 budget. Two other points raised by the governor focus on the governor's constitutional and statutory authority to negotiate and implement compacts. The governor's attorneys argue that the legislature granted the state's compacting authority to the governor's office and that the bills interfere in that process.

Now McCall and Treat have yet to respond officially to the lawsuit, but when the bills were considered on the floor and in statements they have made, they noticed it is not unusual for the legislature to call and conduct special sessions concurrently with the regular session. They also said the bills were budget related because the compacts generate more than $55 million in revenue for the state that would be lost if they were allowed to expire on the floor. Treat and House Majority Leader Jon Echols also said the bills did not interfere with the governor's authority to negotiate compact but defined how the existing compacts would continue to operate.

Dick Pryor: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has validated the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority's issuance of bonds to fund its access Oklahoma Turnpike expansion plan. We've been following that for some time, but bond validation requests are usually mundane. This one was not. What makes the court's rationale and decision here stand out?

Shawn Ashley: Mundane is a very good word because bond validation requests are usually a question of whether the entity issuing the bonds has the authority to do so, and really whether the paperwork, the bond indenture is in order. In this case, opponents of the turnpikes, particularly those in the Norman area, argued that the proposed routes had not been approved by the legislature and that this would be the second bond issue for a series of projects for which the Legislature had authorized only one bond issue that had already taken place. The Court's majority rejected both those arguments and said the Turnpike Authority does have proper authorization to issue the bonds and the indenture is in order.

This was a 6-3 ruling and the three justices in the minority said exactly the opposite when it came to the opponent’s arguments that the routes were not approved and whether this was in fact a second bond issue or a set of projects for which only one bond issue had been authorized by the legislature.

Dick Pryor: So, what happens next and when?

Shawn Ashley: Work on the projects was suspended in April pending the outcome of the validation case. Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz said the work would resume. The restart will take place in the coming months, he said. Some of the projects, such as interchange upgrades and widening projects, he explained, will move forward more quickly than others, such as the construction of new turnpike extensions.

Dick Pryor: The state's Rainy Day Fund is getting bigger and the legislature will have more money to appropriate next year than they expected.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. Governor Kevin Stitt and Office of Management and Enterprise Services executive director John Sutter reported Thursday that FY 2023’s general revenue fund collections topped $9 billion. That's approximately 1.6 billion, or 21.2% above the estimate, and $493.7 million or 5.8% above the prior fiscal year collections. When general revenue fund collections exceed the estimate, the excess revenue is deposited in the Rainy Day Fund. This year that means $222.9 million will be deposited. And that means that the Rainy Day Fund will hit its $1.3 billion cap. Those remaining monies will be held as cash and will be available for lawmakers to appropriate the next time they meet - whether that's in special session or regular session.

Dick Pryor: That's right. Thank you, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org and listen to Capitol Insider where you get your podcasts. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

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Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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