State Services Fall Prey to Partisan Politics

By Rep. Mike Sanders

House Republican leadership this week announced a plan that was agreed upon with the Senate and the governor. In it, we gave Democrats much of what they asked for in their own plan. We brought this plan to a vote on the House floor Wednesday.

The plan included an increase of $1.50 on the tax on cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco; 6 cents on gasoline and diesel; additional tax on 3.2 beer; and the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit for the state’s lowest income earners.

The speaker also generously offered to put a measure raising the gross production tax on oil and gas wells to 5 percent to a vote of the House if the first plan passed. This is something the Democrats have requested for months.

Money would go to fill the current budget hole that threatens to affect health care, mental health and human services for our state’s most vulnerable citizens as well as to fund a $3,000 teacher pay raise and a $1,000 pay raise for state employees.

This plan contains recurring revenue, which is something everyone has insisted upon for our state budget. While it does include some revenue increases, it does so only on the basis of consumption. In the case of fuel, the tax will be spread out among all consumers – from high to low income as well as from individuals to corporations. In the case of tobacco products or beer, the tax affects only those who consume these products.

I campaigned on the premise of keeping taxes low. When it comes to making decisions that could keep my rural hospitals and nursing homes open and provide needed services for children and the aging, I had to vote in favor of people first. They are my first priority.

The gasoline tax would have gone to fund roads and bridges. This is necessary and something that should have happened 20 years ago. The gasoline and diesel tax in Oklahoma has not been raised since 1987. We have one of the lowest taxes in the nation and the lowest in the region. About 40 percent of the gas and diesel tax is already paid by out of state visitors, and as I said above, this is a tax that could be spread evenly among all consumers.

The earned income tax credit is something I voted against removing in the first place, and I have advocated for its return. This credit is something President Ronald Reagan and former Gov. Frank Keating both championed. I’m honored to join these heroes of conservatism in support of this good cause.

Teacher and state employee pay raises are paramount. Out teachers have gone without an increase to the minimum state salary schedule since 2008, and state employees have been without a pay raise for 11 years. This is something everyone wants and supports.

This plan is not perfect; no compromise is; but it would have solved the state’s current revenue problems and put us on a more sustainable path toward the future as we continue the work of reforming our budget process and begin work to audit our state agency spending.

At the end of the day Wednesday, Republicans put up 75 percent of the votes needed to pass this package while every Democrats voted in a block against it, even though every item included is something they have asked for in past plans. It’s always been apparent, but now more than ever, Republicans will have to fix this budget problem brought by a national recession and a depression in oil and gas by ourselves. The question is, do they really want a solution? Their actions say otherwise.

One final reminder: not everything you read on social media is true. There is no accountability in that theater. Instead, if you have a question or concern, my door is always open. I always respond to my constituents. I always have and I always will.

I can be contacted at or (405) 557-7407.

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Special Session Update

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The Legislature convenes in special session Sept. 25. This is after the state Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017, leaving a $215 million hole in the budget to be re-appropriated by the Legislature.

The easiest way to fill this hole and leave state services at current appropriation levels would be for the House and Senate to pass the original cigarette tax of $1.50. This is the only tax increase the majority of Oklahomans have said they would support. The caveat is this takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers. In the House, that is 76 votes. House leadership has tried to pass this tax the last two legislative sessions, but the minority leader has led his caucus into choosing not to keep rural hospitals and nursing homes open and let other health care services take a hit.

This is disappointing to say the least. I hope he and his caucus will now put politics aside and do what is right for Oklahomans.

If the tax fails outright, we will vote to put it to a vote of the people, which would take only a simple majority of 51 votes.

Since the court’s ruling in August, House leadership and the majority party have met regularly – the Republican Caucus met this week – to develop a plan that will preserve core government services but make strategic cuts to ensure efficiency and an end to waste and duplication. We currently have a plan we will be rolling out in time for special session. I will give more details in next week’s column.

I’ve been asked why we need a supermajority to pass the cigarette tax. This goes back to State Question 640, passed in 1992. After a state recession, Democrats then in charge raised multiple taxes. Oklahomans voted to make it harder to do so in the future, instituting the two-thirds majority vote requirement.

I will keep you updated on happenings here.

In one other piece of business, I again must express my disappointment with the state Department of Human Services. They recently announced that as of Oct. 1 they will begin assessing a fee on child support payments. This fee is not charged to the person making the payments but rather comes out of the pocket of the person receiving the payment – even if that person is a single mom or a single dad. In addition, two-thirds of this fee goes to the federal government because they provide the bulk of the program.

This is inexcusable. DHS should be ashamed of itself, taking money from already struggling single parents. I will not stand for this, and will lead the charge to reverse the rule that allowed this fee to go forward to be signed by the governor.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Capitol Closed but Leadership Continues to Meet

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The state Capitol is closed this week as crews replace the building’s entire electrical system, part of which includes original wiring installed more than 100 years ago. Despite the closure, House leadership has met via teleconference, and we will be in over the weekend putting in place further options for how to proceed in special session to re-appropriate the state budget.

The easiest way to fill the current budget hole is obviously for the cigarette tax to pass. But, any plan to raise revenue requires a three-fourths vote in both the House and the Senate, and the governor has said she would not sign a budget that contained cuts to state agencies.

So, we’re at an impasse.

The plan to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50 has garnered Republican and Democrat support, and 67 percent of Oklahoma voters polled say they support this. Yet, instead of voting for this one tax increase to go toward affected Oklahoma healthcare budgets, Democrats have said they will not vote for this as a stand-alone measure. Instead, they want four additional tax increases on income, motor vehicle fuel, gross production on new oil and gas wells and services not currently taxed

House Republicans have been trying to go through negotiations in good faith, but this is not at all a good deal – four votes for one. Who in their right mind would think that is a fair trade? That’s disingenuous and dishonest.

My first priority is keeping my rural hospitals and nursing homes open, and I want to give teachers a raise. But, there is no way as a small-government conservative that I am going to ask the Oklahoma taxpayer to give four times over to bloat government. We will continue to work for the most pressing items in the governor’s call for this special session, but the rest of her wishes can wait for regular session.

Even though the Capitol is dark this week, please know I am still working on a solution. In the meantime, not convening in special session until a deal is brokered is still saving you, the taxpayer, money.

On a final note, I want to thank my constituents who have stopped me at ball games, at church, at the supermarket, at Rotary meetings and other places to offer suggestions and solutions. I want to thank each of you for the ideas.

I work for the people in House District 59, and I will continue to take this job seriously as I serve both our district and the state of Oklahoma. We will find a way forward that funds core government services but not solely on the backs of our citizens.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at or (405) 557-7407.




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Plan in Progress

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House plans to come back into special session on Monday afternoon to consider new appropriations measures.

In the meantime, the House Republican caucus continues to meet to discuss each and every part of the plan. The caucus met two times this week for four to five hours each time discussing how we can address the governor’s call while remaining true to our conservative principals and funding core state services.

I along with House leadership have been working behind the scenes and late into the night coming up with a plan that addresses most of the governor’s call. The first item is to fill a $215 million revenue hole left after the state Supreme Court struck down the Smoking Cessation Act of 2015. The revenue would have gone primarily to three healthcare agencies. Another item is to increase teacher pay. Overall, the governor has asked the Legislature to restructure the budget process.

The plan may change by the time you read this, but we are still discussing raising the cigarette tax and an increase in gross production tax. Other ideas also are still being vetted. While we’ve raised gross production tax on legacy wells last year, many House Republicans think there is still room to negotiate.

My main priority is keeping our rural hospitals and nursing homes open and that our children and senior adults who need services receive them. Those are the most vulnerable, and that is my No. 1 priority.

House leadership is talking Thursday and Friday with the governor and the Senate about healthcare and teacher pay. I will discuss in future columns more details of the plan once an agreement is reached. The plan must be one that will pass the House and the Senate and be agreed upon by the governor.

It takes both parties and both chambers and the executive branch to make this happen. I’ve asked my fellow lawmakers to please set aside politics, political ambition and political grandstanding so we can do what is right for the state of Oklahoma. I’ve encouraged them to be statesmen and stateswomen and do what our constituents hired us to do and fix the immediate problems with our healthcare issues and teacher pay.

I want to thank each person from my district who has taken the time to call or email or reach out to me on Facebook. I read each suggestion, idea and thought. They give me a great idea of what people in my district want so I can articulate that to the speaker and our leadership team.

I ask for your prayers during this tumultuous time. But, I am optimistic we will strike an agreed-upon plan and move Oklahoma forward.

In closing, I want to turn my focus for a moment to the horrific massacre our nation experienced last Sunday in Las Vegas. Evil struck down and killed nearly 60 Americans and injured over 500 people. I’m thankful for the law enforcement and first responders and the everyday heroes who put themselves between people they didn’t even know and bullets, sacrificing themselves to protect their fellow man. The heroism exemplified shows to all of us and the world that America can come together. I ask for continued prayer for the families of those who lost their lives and for the injured victims as well as for those who were in the crowd and still reeling from the trauma of this tragedy.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at or (405) 557-7407.

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House in Recess for Now

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House convened in special session this week, but has recessed until a budget agreement can be reached. Recessing allows budget negotiations to continue without the $30,000 per day price tag attached to special session.

The first two days of the session, the House did everything constitutionally allowed. The state Constitution requires first, second and third reading of bills to be conducted on separate days before they are passed to the opposite chamber. So, on day one, we first-read the 142 House bills filed for special session and the two House joint resolutions. The second day we read the bills and resolutions a second time.

House leadership was prepared to come in on day three and vote for a cigarette tax increase of $1.50 to help fill the budget hole left when the state Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017. This would have ensured health care agencies could continue without worry of cuts to their budgets this fiscal year. Yet, we had no indication that House Democrats were prepared to deliver the votes needed on this measure.

To raise any revenue requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. That is 76 votes in the House, which has only 72 Republicans currently. Without support from the opposite party, House leadership deemed it would be best to recess until a plan can be achieved that has the Senate and the governor’s support. This allows us to continue negotiating but at no cost to the taxpayer.

Let me be clear: I am not in favor of raising taxes, but in the case of the cigarette tax, more than 61 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Oklahomans polled have said they want this for health care. I’ve received calls about cutting government spending, and our plan will include targeted cuts. There are always ways to find efficiencies and strip duplicate even triplicate services out of agency budgets. To do this, though, we will need to aggressively audit agency budgets. We need to make sure government works for us and not the other way around.

In addition to the cigarette tax, House leadership has been willing to consider all other options to address the state budget hole. These include examining other tax incentives and increasing the gross production tax (GPT). Every one of these options has been thoroughly discussed and vetted, but we just do not have enough votes in the Republican Caucus to move on these issues. This requires give and take on both sides.

When I answered the call to serve in state government, I knew it would require me to be a statesman – to make tough calls that others may not be willing to make, sometimes being willing to compromise. Not everyone will agree with the plan to raise this cigarette tax. I don’t always agree with those I love, even my wonderful wife, Nellie, but sometimes the outcomes – in this case keeping our rural hospitals and nursing homes and ensuring our seniors and disabled adults receive services – are more important than the method.

The three agencies affected by the current budget hole – the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services – assured the Legislature in writing weeks ago that they could make it at least until the end of the calendar year if not months longer on current appropriations. This gives us time to develop the right plan while saving the taxpayer the money it costs for special session.

In any case, I was elected by the voters in my district, and that is who I work for. I don’t work for lobbyists or other interest groups. I work for you.

For now, the House stands in recess until a budget plan can be agreed upon by the House the Senate and the governor. If I have to work 24/7 and sleep in my office until that agreement is secured, I will do just that.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at or (405) 557-7407.

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Special Session Planned

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor this week announced plans to call a special legislative session beginning Sept. 25 in order for the Legislature to adjust the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

Frankly, I’m disappointed in the governor’s rush. It’s irresponsible and reckless to rush into a session that will cost taxpayers more than $22,000 a day every day we are in session on the House side alone, when (a) the Oklahoma Supreme Court has yet to rule on a final case that could affect the state budget; and (b) no agreement is in place between House Republicans and Democrats and the state Senate on how to re-allocate state funds. We face the same impasse we faced in session.

The governor announced her plans against advice from House leadership.

The need for a special session springs from the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month against the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017. The act would have placed a $1.50 fee on a package of cigarettes to promote efforts to get smokers to stop. Money from the fee – about $215 million – would have gone to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Human Services.

But the truth is we have time before a special session is necessary. The agencies affected have state allocations to get them through until at least year’s end. But instead of waiting and being prudent, the governor and House Democrats have posed $1 billion in tax increases in order to plug the $215 million hole. That plan will never make it through the House.

Instead, House Speaker Charles McCall has announced that the original cigarette tax will be proposed again in special session. It is the only tax increase Oklahomans overall have said they would support.

If the plan fails, it will be put to a vote of the people and House Democrats can answer to why cuts were necessary to core government services.

House leaders and Republicans have met frequently to explore all budget options. At the end of the day, we must adopt something that cuts waste, increases efficiencies and yet still funds core government services and protects our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

I believe in the American and the Oklahoma dream, which includes a conservative and efficient government, but one which funds core functions of government. This takes working across all lines – Republican, Democrat, House, Senate, Legislative and Executive. We must all come together behind one goal – that goal is to preserve the Oklahoma standard. This calls for statesmen and stateswomen, those who will not grandstand but will make the hard decisions that need to be made.

I was hired to do a job, and I will do just that. That job, though, does not include voting for a $1 billion worth of tax increases. Of that you can be assured.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Responding to Increased Oil Field Traffic

OKLAHOMA CITY – First, let me say I’m thankful for the boom in our economy brought by the recent increased activity in The STACK oil play near Kingfisher. I appreciate the increased sales and income tax this is creating. I’m thankful for what this will mean to our local, county and state economy and the resulting benefits to the people in my district.

That said, there have been eight fatality accidents recently involving commercial motor vehicles: three in Kingfisher County, two in Blaine County and three in Canadian County. Investigations are still open on many of these. Whether these were caused by drivers who just are unfamiliar with our roads, by aggressive or inattentive driving or overweight trucks remains to be seen. Whatever the cause, I cannot and will not stand for the lives of our residents being put in danger.

In addition, this increased traffic and the weight in these larger trucks is putting a toll on our city, county and state roads and bridges. I’m concerned about the cost to our municipal and county budgets. With budgets being strained the past few years, we need to do all we can to protect our local and state dollars.

To address my concerns and those expressed to me by my constituents, I met recently with Capt. Brad Shepherd, Commander of Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and Troop J. I’ve also met with local police and our county sheriffs. Their job is to protect the public from aggressive or inattentive drivers as well as to protect our roads and bridges from overweight trucks. They’re doing a good job. Capt. Shepherd showed me a list of responses the OHP is taking to address the increased traffic.

These include an education-through-enforcement campaign in which commercial motor vehicle drivers are contacted by the OHP on traffic violations, which leads to offering up education programs to the company for which they work.  The drivers are educated on state statute if vehicles are overweight or if drivers exhibit aggression or other behaviors likely to cause accidents. These safety education programs also are offered to local community civic groups in which talks are held to discuss defensive driving practices for local residents. The OHP also has adjusted manpower to peak traffic hours and moved other troops into the area to assist in this matter. I’m thankful for these efforts, and I’ve told all law enforcement that I’ve got their backs as they pursue these efforts.

I appreciate all of the calls and emails I’ve received on this and other issues. I would encourage those who have not yet reached out to me directly but have voiced a public outcry to try a phone call or an email to my office. We can accomplish quite a bit if we can first communicate. 

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.


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What Comes Next: The Supreme Court’s Decision

by Rep. Mike Sanders

As you have probably heard by now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the $1.50 per pack cigarette fee the Oklahoma Legislature passed in May. The high court is a co-equal branch of government, and the justices acted in accordance with the state constitution. People may differ on decisions that were made, but at the end of the day, as Oklahomans, we clearly support the rule of law and the system we hold dear.

By way of background, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 845 – also known as the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017 – in the final days of the legislative session this year. This bill set up a framework with the majority of the money generated going into a newly created Health Care Enhancement Fund. SB 845 was intended to reduce tobacco consumption and lessen health-related costs from tobacco-induced illnesses, and it would have generated more than $200 million. 

Tobacco companies, unsurprisingly, challenged the measure because it would have affected their profit margins.

So where do we go from here?

I know some of you may be nervous and wondering what this all means for rural hospitals and health care providers. Rest assured, the Speaker of the House and the Chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee have met with the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services. All three agencies have given House leadership their word that they can sustain services for several months.

Accordingly, this allows the Legislature to carefully consider our best course of action. Before we can choose the most efficient and effective path forward, we must know exactly what we’re dealing with. There are currently two other cases before the Supreme Court that could also impact the state’s bottom line. Once the court rules on those issues, we’ll have much more clarity as to what the state faces. 

Additionally, Oklahoma’s economy is rebounding. Sales tax receipts and income tax are both on the rise, and we have about $83 million in an unexpected carryover from Fiscal Year 2017. These are great signs.  All of these facts will cushion the hole and allow the Speaker time to talk with Gov. Mary Fallin and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate before finalizing a plan. There will be no knee-jerk reactions.

I can promise you one thing for sure: the Oklahoma Legislature will not leave these three affected agencies in the lurch. Lawmakers do not want to see the residents of this great state lose access to their health care, and I vow to fight for Oklahomans every step of the way. 


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Representatives to Make a Stop at ENDUI Checkpoint

OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of republican state representatives are set to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department and the Edmond Police Department at an ENDUI checkpoint Friday.

ENDUI checkpoints stop motorists and check for drivers who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. More than a quarter of Oklahoma’s traffic fatalities involve alcohol.

House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, Rep. Scott Biggs, Rep. Mike Osburn, Rep. Rhonda Baker, Rep. John Paul Jordan, Rep. John Pfeifer, and Rep. Randy Worthen will meet the law enforcement officers at an undisclosed ENDUI checkpoint location in Edmond.

“Driving under the influence is one of the most lethal yet preventable things humans do,” Biggs said. “As representatives, we feel fortunate to have this opportunity to see how ENDUI, a lifesaving program, works in the field.” 

The representatives also want to use this opportunity to let law enforcement officers know that the legislature is behind them.

“Our friends at OHP and law enforcement officers across the state work tirelessly to ensure that Oklahoma roads are as safe as possible,” Sanders said. “As lawmakers, we can fund programs like ENDUI all day long, but without trained law enforcement officers, these programs won’t work. The success of ENDUI is a testament to the professionalism and leadership of our state’s law enforcement officers.”

The Friday checkpoint will also mark a first for collaboration as the Edmond Police Department is scheduled to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for their first ENDUI checkpoint.

“The Edmond police department is made up of officers that just want to protect their community,” said Rep. Mike Osburn, R- Edmond. “I’m not surprised to learn that they are participating in this worthwhile program, and I look forward to seeing them out there.”

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Back to School

By Rep. Mike Sanders

It’s that time of year when yellow buses will soon take to the streets and young people will be riding their bikes and walking to school. I urge drivers to be on extra alert and observe our school zone speed limits.

I want to extend a special thank you to our teachers who will soon face classrooms full of fresh, new faces. So many of our teachers go above and beyond for their students, not only teaching them how to read and do math, how to think scientifically or about the history of our nation and state, but they care and love their students. Outside of a parent, a teacher is probably the person that has the next greatest influence on the life of a child. I remember fondly the great teachers who encouraged me in my studies and taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be – even majority leader of the House of Representatives. I owe so much of what I am today to great teachers.

I also want to thank our school administrators, who’ve worked throughout the summer to hire great teachers to fill our classrooms, to make sure programs, materials and facilities are up to date and ready for students and staff to return for the school year. Many of our administrators fill in doing other jobs around the school buildings, yet these extra duties may go unnoticed. I want to say thank you for all of the work that you do to make sure young people are prepared for the next level of learning and for life after school.

Education is such an important building block for society as a whole. We’re not just teaching our children their ABCs and their numbers. We’re teaching them how to succeed in future jobs and how to contribute positively back to society. We’re training up the next generation of teachers, doctors, police officers, construction workers, bankers and lawmakers, all of the people who make our communities work. We’re teaching them how to think critically and solve problems, how to get along with others and to share.

At the Legislature, I’ll continue to work on behalf of our students, parents, teachers and administrators to ensure our schools have regulations and accountability measures that don’t stymie their work but that provide parents and taxpayers with the transparency needed. I’ll also continue to fight for higher teacher pay.

On a final note, when you’re picking up school supplies, get a few extra items or even a gift card or two to share with your child’s teacher. This small act of kindness will be appreciated more than you know.

I’m excited about this new school year and all the promise it holds. Again, I want to thank our teachers and administrators for their selfless sacrifices for our kids. I appreciate all you do.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.


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