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.