Fallin broadens call for Oklahoma special session

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DALLAS – Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s call for a legislative special session beginning Monday will give lawmakers more to consider than just the recent state Supreme Court decision that eliminated $215 million of revenue from the current budget.

Fallin called for lawmakers to look beyond the shortfall in the current fiscal year budget caused by the court ruling to long-term solutions to government inefficiencies, and a pay increase for public school teachers.

The state’s 2018 fiscal year budget, which took effect July 1, has a shortfall of $215 million as a result of last month’s Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, which struck down a proposed smoking cessation fee that was estimated to raise that amount. The $215 million represents just state funds. With the loss of matching federal funds, state agencies estimate the total is nearly $500 million, Fallin said.

“Urgent action is needed,” said Fallin. “Lawmakers need to come together quickly to fill this fiscal year’s budget hole so our citizens can be assured they will receive necessary core services. I also am asking them to develop solutions to address structural deficits in our budget. For decades, we have attempted to balance our budget for too long with the use of one-time resources. We must develop a budget based on stability, not volatility.”

The court ruled that the “fee” was actually a “tax” passed in the last week of the 2017 session. Under Oklahoma’s constitution, revenue raising measures cannot be considered in the last week of a legislative session.

Under Fallin’s call, lawmakers have the option to address a long-term solution to continuing budget shortfalls and address the need for more consolidation and other efficiencies in all areas of state government.

“I have been talking with legislative leaders from both parties and I will continue to work with them until an agreement is reached,” Fallin said. “I wish we had an easy button to push but that is not reality. Our challenges in front of us are difficult and it will take great resolve and statesmanship for us to be successful.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said that lawmakers had already considered scenarios for solving the funding problem and that “there is no time to waste on ideas that haven’t been completely vetted” such as the cigarette tax.

“As far as long-term budget solutions, the Senate already has shown its commitment to solving this problem by passing a plan during the regular session to provide new, recurring revenue,” Schulz said. “I believe the Senate could again pass such a plan if given the chance during a special session.”

Fallin said it’s time a permanent pay raise is enacted for public school teachers, some of whom have left the state for higher pay in Texas and other states. However, the governor said a pay raise alone will not improve student outcomes, urging lawmakers to ensure more existing dollars are reaching the classroom by eliminating administrative inefficiencies.

“I encourage lawmakers to see this special session as an opportunity to change the fiscal course we are headed,” said Fallin. “I hope they seize the moment to pass legislation that makes more recurring revenue available, reduces our reliance on one-time funds, and puts our state on the path to success.”

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