Governor Mary Fallin had a front row seat to the final act of the Special Session. The State Senate debate on the budget bills was the saddest thing I have ever heard. Several Senators said, “We tried, but those guys across the hall” – the House of Representatives, specifically Speaker Charles McCall and about two dozen groupies who literally refuse to add any new stream of revenue – “just aren’t reasonable like we are.”
Sen. Jason Smalley from Stroud called out those colleagues – many of whom he said he considers friends - across the hall. Senator Smalley was Representative Smalley before he was elected for a longer term in the State Senate.
He also noticed Gov. Fallin in the audience and implored her to veto this bill if it were to pass. Smalley said he wasn’t finished fighting and he believes the legislature can do better than massive cuts and spending the state’s savings accounts and other one-time money. Those moves patch current holes but would leave the state facing another $600 million budget hole coming into the 2018 Legislative Session.
The state’s bond rating is in jeopardy. Our reputation is tarnished. This is not real conservatism.
Those who fight additional revenue won’t support a new tax or even returning current tax rates to reasonable levels.
No one likes taxes.
However, most intelligent people realize that roads, schools, and services supported by the state cost money. Most intelligent people would never drain the state’s savings accounts simply to avoid raising Gross Production Taxes to reasonable levels similar to those charged in other states.
During Gov. Fallin’s tenure, that is exactly what she and the state legislature have done.
On Friday, she received their budget bills that represented the culmination of an eight-week special session that only served to further drain the state’s reserves and leave much of the funding gap unfilled. Friday evening, Fallin told the legislature their efforts were not good enough. She used her line item veto pen to strike down the majority of the bill.
The Governor did sign off on a handful of measures that save the state’s healthcare system from being devastated. Additional funds had to be appropriated by Dec. 1 or as many as a third of the nursing homes in Oklahoma could have been shuttered – among other harsh effects.
In addition to her veto, Fallin said she would be calling the legislators back for a second special session. Depending on when the sequel begins, the legislators will struggle to finish the 2017 session before February 5 – when the 2018 Regular Session begins.
Who said Oklahoma had a part-time legislature?
Unfortunately, their long hours aren’t proof of dedication. Instead, the failed regular session, the failed special session and the upcoming reboot of the special session are proof that if you aren’t very good at something, it takes a lot longer to get the job done.
It is hard to predict what effect this persistent disappointment will have at the ballot box in 2018. In a normal state, there would be a long list of legislators losing their seats. But this is Oklahoma and there is a lot of time for lawmakers to pass cynical bills that pander to voting blocs and campaign donors.
That’s how we got here. It isn’t the way out.