Fallin issues special session call for Oklahoma lawmakers

December 16, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Mary Fallin issued an order late Friday to convene a special legislative session, asking lawmakers to return to the Oklahoma Capitol on Monday to address a $110 million hole in the state budget.

The Republican’s executive order said the session would be limited to patching a budget overrun at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. But the governor, who could expand the scope of the session, said she also would keep negotiating with lawmakers toward finding a long-term solution to recent budget deficits. She also said she would press for pay increases for schoolteachers and state employees.

Fallin and the Republican-controlled Legislature failed during a recent eight-week special session to agree on a tax-increase plan to stabilize the state budget and to increase teacher pay. A package of tax hikes on tobacco, fuel, alcohol, and oil and gas production that would have funded a teacher pay raise fell five votes short of the 75 percent majority required for a tax increase.

The 75 percent threshold — one of the highest thresholds in the country — has proven a difficult hurdle for lawmakers, especially in the Oklahoma House, where many Republicans oppose tax hikes of any kind.

Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said the idea of getting 76 members in the House to vote for a tax package could be even more difficult the week before Christmas, when some legislators will be on vacation or otherwise unavailable.

“Everybody that I can’t get here is one less vote that I have no shot at getting,” said Echols, a Republican from Oklahoma City. “My job is infinitely easier if we come in the first week in January and know that we have uninterrupted time to get it done.”

During the last special session, lawmakers ultimately settled on a backup budget plan that would have further slashed agency budgets. It also would have covered the rest of the overrun with one-time revenue sources, such as agency savings accounts. Fallin vetoed that plan and implored lawmakers to return for a second special session.

Fallin’s veto caught legislative leaders by surprise and further exacerbated ongoing tension between her and House leaders, who have been lukewarm at best toward the governor’s plans to raise taxes.

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