For the Children:

 Special Session is Coming: Avoiding a Crisis Will Require Bipartisan Compromise
By OICA CEO Joe Dorman

As of Monday, state budget negotiations have stalled and a “special” legislative session seems imminent. In parliamentarian-speak, we are headed for an extended session because, pursuant to Article 5, Section 26 of the Oklahoma Constitution, the Legislature is required to adjourn the final Friday of May at 5 PM, and a special session will need to be declared to conduct any further business.  In layman’s terms, it means we are going to overtime.
 
Republican supermajorities are unable to craft a budget deal without the help of Democrats because of changes made by a vote of the people in 1992 as part of State Question 640. That measure made two important changes: first it required that any tax increase must pass before the final five days of the legislative session and the bill must originate in the House of Representatives.  Second, any tax increase, defined as a revenue raising measure, now requires passage with 76 supportive votes in the House of Representatives and 36 “yes” votes in the State Senate.
 
In other words, our Constitution was amended to make tax increases much more difficult to pass. Therein lies the rub, because our state is now facing a budget shortfall of over $900 million, and responsible legislators in both parties are supportive of raising new revenue rather than dismantling government services that care for children, the elderly and the sick.
 
While there has been bipartisan consensus on the need to raise some revenue via tax increases, there has not been an agreement on which taxes to raise, or by how much. Republicans, by and large, are reluctant supporters of a cigarette tax hike, a gasoline tax hike and a modest increase in the gross production tax paid by oil and natural gas companies (supporting an increase from two percent to either three or four percent). Democrats want a larger tax increase on energy companies as well as an income tax increase for high earners.
 
With no agreement in sight, Governor Fallin will be forced to call a special session, which will cost taxpayers about $35,000 a day.
 
There are two possible outcomes at this point. The first is that Republicans, frustrated with their inability to strike a deal with Democrats, will pass a budget with no revenue raising measures (thus, requiring only a simple majority). Such a budget would be built around spending cuts in the neighborhood of 14.5 percent for every agency. This would be an unmitigated disaster of the sort that is impossible to overstate. Our education system would immediately enter a tail spin, hospitals would close, services for vulnerable children and other at-risk populations would be dismantled. This cannot be allowed to happen. 
 
Another (far better) outcome is that Republicans and Democrats strike a deal that includes permanent and significant revenue raising measures that stabilize the budget. This will require a willingness to meet in the middle, good faith negotiations and some flexibility.
 
I have heard activists and elected officials in both parties say they would rather “lose” and stand up for their beliefs than compromise, even if the end results are deep budget cuts or a government shutdown. At OICA, we respectfully – but very strongly – disagree.  
 
If these activists and lawmakers think there is nobility in “going down swinging,” they are wrong. They are wrong because they aren’t the ones who really stand to lose or to take a hit; it will be kids in public school and kids in the child welfare system, seniors in nursing homes, vulnerable individuals with mental health issues, and others who truly need the services that only the state can provide.
 
Now is not a time for political gamesmanship or partisan gridlock. Standing by your principles never means driving the state off a cliff. It is time for our lawmakers to compromise, to work together and to avoid a crisis.
 
Please contact your legislators and ask them to support a responsible budget deal that avoids major cuts to core government services.

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