GOP Revenue-Raising, Teacher Pay Bill Fails In Oklahoma House

Oct 25, 2017

Democrats in the Oklahoma House voted down a GOP-backed package that would have increased taxes on cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, low point beer and fuel on a tense day at the state capitol.

The plan would have also given a pay raise to teachers and some state employees.

The bill needed 75 percent of House members to vote in favor. All House Democrats voted against it Wednesday because it didn’t include a tax increase on the gross production tax on oil and gas wells. The measure failed 54 to 44.

When it became apparent he would not have the votes to pass the bill, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, held the vote open and talked to reporters. He implored Democrats to get on board with the bill.

“I have delivered 75 percent of the Republican caucus on this vote. There are many in my caucus that aren’t crazy about this plan, but they understand how important this vote is for the people of Oklahoma,” McCall said.

McCall’s impromptu press conference was interrupted by Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, and Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, who said Republicans were engaged in political theater. McCall had a few choice words for the two Democrats as he walked by them.

 

“For the Speaker to say he’s done everything he can, well he’s either a feckless leader or he’s actually being very disingenuine. And you can pick one of the two, I don’t care,” Williams said.

McCall said he would bring a vote to the floor on raising the gross production tax from 2 percent to 5 percent. However,  Democrats counter that any rate increase would not succeed if it is not included in the larger revenue-raising package.

The failure of the tax package comes amid a session special to fill a $215 million budget hole. The budget gap was created when the state Supreme Court invalidated a $1.50 cigarette tax during the regular session because it did not garner the required 75 percent of the vote from the legislature.

The cigarette fee was designed to fund the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority. This month, the three agencies have outlined the cuts they will make if the legislature does not come to an agreement.

On Wednesday, the DHS announced it would need to cut $69 million from his current fiscal year budget. Among the agency’s cuts would be $36.44 million from the Advantage Waiver Program, which supports home support and services for frail seniors and adults with disabilities, according to eCapitol. Many of the cuts would take place beginning December 1, 2017 if the legislature cannot take action.

ODMHSAS announced last week that $75 million would need to be cut from their budget in the current fiscal year. Faced with the loss of funding, commissioner Terri White said the agency would end funding for almost all outpatient services.

The Oklahoma Healthcare Authority has indicated they would need to cut Medicaid reimbursement rates by 9 percent.