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Fallin pushes for more in special session E-mail
Opinion
Friday, 22 September 2017 08:37


A SECOND OPINION, The Daily Oklahoman



With the authority as governor to define the scope of a special session of the Legislature, Mary Fallin chose to include a variety of items instead of focusing primarily on repairing a $215 million budget hole. This reduces the likelihood of significant gains being made.

The special session, set to begin next Monday, became necessary after the state Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional a $1.50-per-pack tobacco cessation "fee" approved by lawmakers in the final week of the regular session. The fee was projected to produce $215 million during fiscal year 2018, and that total was built into the budgets of four state agencies.

Those agencies now face budget shortages later in the fiscal year, and fixing that problem is paramount. Fallin listed this as the No. 1 item on her special session agenda.

However, she also included four other items:

— Address the need for further consolidation and other efficiencies across state government.

— Produce legislation to clarify exemptions to a 1.25 percent sales tax on vehicles, approved by the Legislature this spring and upheld by the state Supreme Court this summer. Concerns have been raised about the tax's impact on the trucking industry in Oklahoma.

— Address a pay increase for public school teachers.

— Potentially address "a long-term solution to the continuing budget shortfalls."

Of those other four, only the vehicle tax has the prospect of being handled in short order — something that should be a principle concern given that a special session will cost taxpayers roughly $30,000 per day. On the other hand, partially rolling back this tax increase would further complicate the budgeting issue.

More consolidation? Anyone concerned about government spending favors this idea, but streamlining has been discussed for the past several years with little action taken. We doubt lawmakers will now rush to consolidate, and besides any such effort first requires strategic planning.

Teacher pay raises? The Republican-controlled Legislature has been unable to produce workable legislation during the past two regular sessions, despite this issue being on the front burner. Given that, there's little if any reason to believe a pay raise plan can be created and agreed upon during a special session.

As to the call to look at long-term solutions to the state's ongoing budget shortfalls, Fallin noted that for too long, "we have attempted to balance our budget . with the use of one-time resources. We must develop a budget based on stability, not volatility."

She's correct. However, this item is so broad that it could basically amount to redoing the entire budget again.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said the Senate is ready to work, but added, "There is no time to waste on ideas that haven't been completely vetted. Let's focus on ideas we've vetted — like a cigarette tax increase — that will help address the immediate shortfall and provide recurring revenue going forward."

The governor has opted to do otherwise, as is her prerogative. But skepticism from Schulz and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, who said his caucus has "no intention of raising taxes on Oklahoma families and businesses just for the sake of growing government," gives some indication of the potentially difficult road ahead.

 

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