OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Legislature returned to the Capitol Monday for the start of a special legislative session to address a $215 million shortfall in the state budget, but have not yet reached a deal on exactly how to plug the revenue gap.
Members of the House and Senate met briefly to formally hear bills, and the House seated two new Democratic members elected in special elections over the summer.
Gov. Mary Fallin called for the special session after the state Supreme Court overturned a $1.50-per-pack "fee" on cigarettes as unconstitutional because it didn't receive a three-fourth's majority vote and was passed in the final five days of session. Her call allows lawmakers to consider a new cigarette tax that complies with the constitution, but also to consider other measures to help shore up the budget and approve a pay raise for public school teachers.
But it's clear that Fallin and House and Senate Republicans have not reached a consensus on how to fill the revenue gap, stabilize the budget or fund a teacher pay raise.
Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz on Monday outlined a plan that includes the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax, a six-cent increase on gasoline and diesel fuel and the elimination of a sales tax exemption for wind manufacturers.
"Once we take care of the budget, Senate Republicans would consider a teacher pay plan that includes a permanent funding source," Schulz said in a statement.
House Speaker Charles McCall said House Republicans were open to other revenue raising measures and a teacher pay increase, but planned to focus first on the cigarette tax increase.
Despite a 72-28 advantage in the House, Republicans don't have the three-fourth's majority needed to pass the cigarette tax without support from Democrats.
House Democratic Leader Scott Inman has said some of his members likely would support a cigarette tax, but urged Republican leaders to work with his caucus to reach a "grand bargain" that includes raising the tax on oil and gas production and other revenue measures to stabilize the budget.