Tax provisions of the Step Up Oklahoma plan look set to fail to get the required three-fourths majority on the House floor.
A bill containing the proposal’s tax increases is stuck with just 63 of the 76 votes needed to pass as of 7:25 p.m. House Republican leaders are keeping the vote open, but they have only until midnight to get the necessary votes.
That’s despite Speaker Charles McCall debating on a measure for the first time during his tenure, imploring his colleagues to vote for the cigarette, tobacco, fuel, gross production and wind energy tax hikes meant to boost the state budget more than $580 million next year.
“You can do something about the situation in the state of Oklahoma. Does this bill fix everything? No, it does not, but we’ll be here tomorrow to take up those other measures,” McCall said.
Rep. Scott Inman is among the 17 Democrats voting no, saying the plan is a bad deal for most Oklahomans when tax breaks for energy companies and the wealthy are behind the state’s budget problems.
“The reason you don’t have a pay raise, the reason schools are at four-day school weeks in a fifth of our schools is because of those cuts. It’s not because cigarettes are too cheap. It’s not because you don’t pay enough in gas prices to get to work or to church,” Inman said. “It’s because of the gross production tax cuts, income tax cuts and tax credits that they gave away to the fat cats who run this place.”
Other Democrats who voted against the bill expressed similar reasons for opposing it. Rep. Emily Virgin said the caucus had been approached with possible changes minutes before going to the floor to vote, indicating there were more negotiations to be had.
There were 18 Republicans who also voted against the tax bill, which was intended to give teachers a raise and restore funding to agencies lost when a cigarette tax was struck down last year.
Some opponents from both parties said lawmakers should wait on revenue votes until the State Board of Equalization certifies revenues for the next fiscal year at its Feb. 20 meeting.
Republican Rep. Leslie Osborn, a former appropriations and budget chair, voted yes, saying the state budget picture is as bad as it’s made out to be – 85 percent of state agencies have had their budgets cut at least 45 percent over the past decade.
“So, when you hear gubernatorial candidates and when you hear advocacy groups saying, ‘Well, they just need to tighten the belt. I think an audit would take care of this,’ if you’ve already cut 45 percent out of your budget, do you think that you’ve already cut the fat? That maybe you’re at the tendon level and you’re bleeding out,” Osborn said.
Republican leaders said the special session revenue bill is the only one lawmakers will hear.