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Fallin calls for second special session to address budget woes

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Gov. Mary Fallin is calling for another special session to begin Dec. 18.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin announced Thursday that she will call for a second special session with a beginning date of Dec. 18 to once again address the shortfall in the current fiscal year budget.

Although Fallin has not filed an official call or executive order for the special session, she said she wanted to give legislators enough notice to prepare for another round of discussions and action.

“Discussions are continuing with legislators and Oklahomans in all types of professions from across the state on a long-term, predictable solution to fix our budget and fund core services,” said Fallin in a release. “Budget plan estimates are being developed on various revenue proposals. Instead of waiting for final details, I wanted to give legislators enough notice as possible about when they should return to the Capitol.

Oklahoma lawmakers attempted to tackle the state’s floundering budget in the first special session, held Sept. 25 to Nov. 17. A major goal of the session was to fill a $215 million budget hole after the State Supreme Court knocked down a $1.50 cigarette fee passed by the legislature in May.

After a revised budget bill was approved by lawmakers this fall, Gov. Fallin vetoed most of the bill, keeping only parts that provide temporary funding for health and human services.

Of the 170 sections in the new budget bill, Fallin vetoed all but five claiming that the bill did not provide long-term funding solutions.

The current 2018 fiscal year budget includes $509 million of one-time funds and future obligations of at least $180 million not included in the 2018 fiscal year budget, which combined results in a starting deficit of almost $700 million for the 2019 fiscal year.

Fallin said the early call for a second special session will give the legislature more time to get the latest revenue estimates for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year.

A preliminary estimate of available funds for legislative appropriation will be available that week for the Dec. 20 meeting of the Board of Equalization.

“I am hopeful the estimate will show revenue growth for the 2019 fiscal year. But even if it does, there will be a need for additional revenue to address the combination of one-time funds currently in the budget, the current fiscal year shortfall from the loss of cigarette fee revenue, spending obligations for 2019 and money to give our teachers and state employees a much-needed pay raise,” Fallin said.

“These items taken together will approach close to $800 million.”

In a statement, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, responded to the news and poked at Fallin’s decision to veto most of the line items in the first special session.

“Her veto has put those healthcare programs that Oklahomans rely on in a very precarious position and created uncertainty for healthcare providers and citizens. Had she signed the bill, as she promised the House and Senate she would do, these additional revenue issues could have been addressed during the upcoming regular session,” McCall said. “Once again, the governor has called us back into special session without a plan in place, which means more taxpayer dollars will be wasted. This additional special session could have been avoided if the governor had kept her word.”

House Democrats reacted to the news as well.

“Well we have the date. 2nd #SpecialSession to bring our budget into Constitutional conformity will begin Dec 18th. All I want for Christmas is some #RecurringRevenue to properly fund #CoreServices,” said Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, on social media.

“As far as I can tell, because Dems have not been involved in the discussions, we will once again go back in to special session without a plan or agreement. We tried that once. It was a disaster,” said Emily Virgin, D-Norman.

Fallin said she will make specific recommendations on how to meet critical needs and balance the budget.

“I expect any additional growth in revenue coming to the state treasury will not be enough to put us on the stable foundation we want to see and give teachers a raise. In recent years, we have patched over our problems by using one-time money that, in effect, borrows from Peter to pay Paul,” she said.

“We know we still have a budget hole for this fiscal year of about $111 million from the loss of cigarette fee revenue that will result in cuts that the Health Care Authority will need to make starting January 1 and the Department of Human Services by February 1 if we don’t identify more funding.”

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