Gov. Fallin pushes for special session

The Republican Caucus in the Oklahoma House of Representatives met recently for the first time since the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the smoking cessation fee to begin discussing possible ways to address the impact on the budget.

The fee would have provided approximately $215 million for three health-related state agencies.

House Speaker Charles McCall said lawmakers will be ready to address the budget, but are in wait-and-see mode until the Supreme Court rules on another challenge to a bill passed during the 2017 legislative session that removed an exemption for sales tax on the purchase of new automobiles.

That bill would generate an additional $110 million for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

“We had a very productive meeting today, and our members are prepared to go back to work and deal with the budget when we know what the final budget picture will be,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “We have some ideas on how to address the budget, but there is some uncertainty right now regarding additional court challenges.

“We are very early in the fiscal year, so we do have some time to develop a sound plan that will give our agencies some certainty as they fulfill their duties and manage programs over the next 10 months. I have also communicated with Minority Leader Scott Inman and asked him to provide in writing any ideas the minority caucus is willing to support.”

State Rep. Kevin Wallace, chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said directors from the affected agencies have told him they can operate for the foreseeable future without changes to services while the Legislature works on a plan.

“We are certainly going to address the budget in a reasonable timeframe, and it would be best to have a plan in place before we convene is special session so we can be efficient with taxpayer dollars,” said Wallace, R-Wellston. “I have already been working with the Governor’s Office, the Senate and the state agencies to determine their short-term needs, and I have communicated that to the Republican Caucus.

“We have a challenge, but I am confident we will find a solution.”

Governor Mary Fallin said the Legislature must return in special session to deal with the $215 million shortfall caused by court’s ruling that the cigarette tax was unconstitutional.

Senate Bill 860, the General Appropriations bill, would have raised taxes in the following amounts:

  • Oklahoma Health Care Authority would have received $70 million (about 7 percent of its total appropriation).
  • The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would have received $75 million (about 23 percent of its total appropriation).
  • The Department of Human Services would have received $69 million (about 10 percent of its total appropriation).

Senate Bill 845 would have directed revenue as follows:

  • The first $1 million deposited to the ABLE Commission Revolving Fund, then:
  • All amounts in excess of $1 million to the Health Care Enhancement Fund.