FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Rep. Scott Inman
Phone: (405) 557-7370
House Democratic Caucus Releases Statement in Response to Oklahoma Court Ruling
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Senate Bill 845 is unconstitutional.
SB845 was projected to raise more than $200 million for the current state budget by charging cigarette wholesalers a $1.50 per pack tax. During the legislative session, however, House Democrats warned Republicans that passing the unconstitutional legislation would have a detrimental impact on our state budget and state agencies. The measure passed the House with a partisan vote of 51 to 43.
The proposed revenue from the tax affects 7 percent of the appropriated budget to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, 10 percent of the appropriated budget to the Department of Human Services, and 23 percent of the appropriated budget to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The court’s ruling will likely prompt a special session, costing the state an additional $30,000 per day, and requiring lawmakers to return to the capitol to fix the now incomplete budget.
“In order to appease special interests, Republicans made a decision to ignore the House Democratic Caucus, Oklahoma citizens and the Oklahoma Constitution,” said Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa. “As a result of that decision, we are now facing a $200 million hole in our current budget. It is time for the Republican Leadership to stop playing political games and to start working on real solutions to fund state government. As we have been all year, the Democratic Caucus stands ready to negotiate a long-term solution to fix Oklahoma’s funding crisis.”
Rep. Collin Walke, D- Oklahoma City, a freshman Legislator said that he was elected to work for every day Oklahomans, and reiterated, “The Democratic Caucus will not support a solution that depends on regressive taxes while wealthy individuals and corporations continue to receive government handouts through tax credits, exemptions, and a decade of irresponsible tax cuts. It is time for the Republican majority to realize that an investment in the people of Oklahoma is an investment in the future of our state and it is absolutely imperative that the cycle of crisis created by negligent budgeting practices end.”
House Democrats held a public budget forum in the House Chamber on August 3rd, inviting all members of the House to listen to statements regarding the importance of these now threatened core services and to begin the work to reach an agreement in the event any of the revenue raising measures were struck down.
After the Forum, Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman stated, “We were sent to the Capitol to act in the best interest of the people, to provide core services for those most in need, to fund our schools, and build infrastructure for growth. The Democratic Caucus released a compromise budget plan that incorporated stable revenue to not only fill the budget shortfall, but also began the process of restoring cuts that have taken place over the last ten years. We put out a call to ask the Majority Caucus to come to [the] table and prepare for Special Session. Not a single member of the Republican Caucus showed up.”
The House Democratic Caucus is urging the Governor to call a Special Session immediately. Several members are requesting legislation be drafted reflecting proposals contained in the Restoring Oklahoma Plan, released in March of this year, with the intention to maximize the time used in a Special Session to not only restore cuts tied to the cigarette tax but also to put Oklahoma on a better path forward.