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.