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Fallin pressures lawmakers to create workable budget in harsh warning

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
Gov. Mary Fallin at the Capitol Wednesday.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin issued a harsh statement and warning to the Oklahoma Legislature Wednesday about the lack of a workable budget and revenue measures, adding that she would veto the budget if the state legislature “could not get the job done.”

“I know it’s a hard ask between our Democrats and our Republicans to put a vote up on the board, to put revenue up on the board to fund these core services,” she said. “But I’m willing to stay here at this Capitol for as long as I need to. And if I have to veto our budget because we don’t get our work done and we devastate our state agencies and not fund core services that our citizens actually demand, then I’m willing to veto our budget and stay as long as we need to until we get our job done.”

Nearly 200 citizens, businessmen and agency representatives packed the Blue Room at the Oklahoma Capitol Wednesday as Fallin pressured state leaders to deal with the lack of a workable budget, calling the situation “embarrassing.”

Oklahoma is facing a nearly $900 million budget shortfall, and Fallin said even if funding for the top seven core services came through, the state could not fund any other agency in the state and would still have a $19 million shortfall.

“It’s embarrassing. Nothing has come to my desk. No substantial measures to solve our budget crisis,” she said. “We are $879 million short, and we have 12 days left to pass revenue measures.”

Fallin also warned lawmakers that she did not want to hear any more of lawmakers playing games with votes and stalling the process.

“These are serious issues, folks,” she said. “We are talking about the education of our children, the health of our citizens, public safety, our roads, keeping our people safe. We have to deal with the problems. We cannot continue to have budget shortfalls every year because we don’t have the courage to step forward and cast votes and put forth ideas to fix our budget and have it be structurally sound to have a path forward for our state.”

As of today, the Oklahoma legislature has 12 days to submit a budget proposal to the governor for approval.

On Monday, Fallin blasted Democrats for not supporting a bill that would increase the tax on cigarettes and gasoline.

“House Bill 2365 passed the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget meeting Monday, but not with Democrat support.

“I am disappointed the House Democrats on the Joint Appropriations and Budget Committee voted against the cigarette and gasoline revenue measure to help fund education, public safety, health and infrastructure,” said Fallin. “They have said they want to fix our large budget shortfall, but where’s the vote? The people of Oklahoma want solutions to the problems our state is facing. It’s time to put aside partisanship to solve our problems.”

In February, Fallin presented the idea to raise the cigarette tax and gas taxes across the state during her State of the State Address. The $1.50 increase per pack of cigarettes would fund state health services for the first year and then, after July 1, 2018, the revenue would then be sent to the Health Care Enhancement Fund.

Across the state, health care agencies have supported the tax on cigarettes, warning that hospitals and nursing homes would be forced to close if additional revenue could not be found.

Other budget ideas

In April, the Save Our State (SOS) coalition, a group of more than 21 statewide organizations ranging from education to mental health to basic human needs, unveiled their budget blueprint for Oklahoma’s current fiscal emergency.  

According to the SOS group, the three-year blueprint would address the overall budget situation, and would avert further budget cuts. It acknowledges that revenue is part of the problem and the plan would modernize the tax system while ending special interest giveaways. It also proposes reforms to budgeting practices that will increase legislative oversight and reduce the potential for future revenue failures.  

“When lawmakers release their budget plan, we hope these considerations are included,” said the SOS Coalition. 

The SOS budget blueprint suggested revenue options like: 

End the capital gains tax break 

Stop out-of-state tax shelters with combined corporate reporting 

End unnecessary sales tax exemptions for luxury purchases 

Modernize a gas tax that has not been adjusted for inflation in three decades 

Restore the 7 percent tax rate for oil and gas production 

Restore a higher income tax rate on very high incomes 

“This proposed budget plan is drawn from a wide variety of suggestions already on the table – the governor's budget, the House Democrats budget, current legislation being considered, the business and energy community and anyone else willing to put a good idea forward,” said David Blatt, executive director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, in a statement. 

“When lawmakers release their budget plan, we hope these considerations are included,” said the SOS Coalition. 

Reactions

Deby Snodgrass, Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Tourism and executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said funding education is key to attracting and retaining business in Oklahoma. She also supported Fallin’s message to the legislature.

“If we want to attract companies to Oklahoma, education is critical,” she said. “We have to find ways to fund education and keep our schools at five days a week.”

Other state agencies also approved of Fallin’s harsh words to lawmakers.

Nick Conner, park director of Osage Hills State Park, said his state park is among those that face a closure if the budget isn’t fixed.

“This definitely affects our ability to care for our natural resources,” he said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”

The Oklahoma Film and Music Office has already seen $1 million cut from the $5 million incentive program it offers for filming in Oklahoma.

“The governor signed that a week ago,” said Teva Sofsky, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office. “We may have to turn productions away, which means less jobs, less economic development and more industry people moving out of our state.”

Dave King, CEO and founder of Exaptive, a software company now based in Oklahoma City, said he moved his company to Oklahoma from Boston two years ago.

“We’ve been growing the company here. One of the things I’ve been struck with is, as a relatively new transplant, people in policy positions ask me how to recruit quality talent,” he said. “Oklahoma has typically been oil and gas, but high tech companies need programmers, IT people and STEM skill sets. The only way we can grow that talent here is to put priority on education from an early age.”

King said he is frustrated by the inability of the legislature to develop a budget that would fund education in Oklahoma.

“You can only stay in business if you can avoid gridlock and can make those hard decisions in a timely manner,” he said. “Entrepreneurs learned that the hard way. We don’t get a second chance to make those hard decisions in a timely manner, so when we see the government that is faced with the equivalent of going out of business, it’s extremely frustrating to see them not make those decisions.”

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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