Oklahoma House sends 4 spending bills to Senate
October 29, 2017
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma House Monday approved four spending bills to supplement the budgets of three state agencies but did not consider any measures to raise new revenue to help fill a $215 million hole in the state budget.
The House took the action at the start of the sixth week of a special legislative session called by Gov. Mary Fallin to fill the budget shortfall and look for long-term solutions to chronic shortfalls that have forced deep cuts to state agencies and services for three consecutive years.
The measures passed by the House would appropriate funds from the general revenue and constitutional Rainy Day Reserve funds. If they become law, the bills would fill only about half the hole created when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a cigarette fee passed by lawmakers earlier this year was unconstitutional.
Each of the bills was approved on identical 92-3 votes in the House. They now head to the state Senate for debate and a vote.
Funds from the cigarette fee were to go largely to three state agencies — the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. And the spending measures approved by the House supplement the budgets of those agencies.
"We have said repeatedly that we would not allow those three vital health agencies absorb the entire $215 budget shortfall," Republican House Speaker Charles McCall of Atoka said following the votes.
The House bills would appropriate $29.5 million to the Health Care Authority, $29 million to human services and a total of about $48 million to mental health. About $23.3 million appropriated to the mental health agency will come from the constitutional Rainy Day Reserve Fund, leaving a balance of about $70 million in the fund.
The Senate late Monday voted 36-0 for separate legislation that appropriates $23.3 million from the Rainy Day Reserve Fund to the mental health agency and sent it to the House for consideration.
Many lawmakers who supported the House bills said they do not meet the state's long-term revenue needs.
"This is not enough and you know it," Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, said during debate. Bennett said the bills are not a comprehensive solution but "kick the can down the road."
"I believe that we can do better," he said.
Lawmakers have been unable to agree on a ways to raise new revenue. Democrats have made increasing the production tax on oil and natural gas a key issue in budget negotiations in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Last week, the Senate adopted a resolution asking the House to pass a package of tax increases, including doubling the production tax from 2 percent to 4 percent. But the bill failed to get out of committee.