If you’re wondering what’s going on in the legislature, you’re not alone. This past week I’ve had several people reach out to me asking “what’s all the ruckus about?” At the risk of over-generalizing, here’s a broad view of why the recent scramble.
According to the Oklahoma Constitution, the legislature cannot pass revenue raising measures in the last five days before session ends. Session always ends the last Friday in May. Therefore, May 26th is officially the last day of the 2017 legislative session.
Oklahoma, unlike the national legislature, must have a balanced budget every year. You’ve probably heard a budget deficit number to the tune of $900 million being thrown around recently. You can imagine how economic ideologies would conflict on ways to fill this hole. Further conflict arises from a law passed in 1992, which requires a supermajority, or three quarters of the legislature, vote of approval in order to pass any kind of tax-increase.
However, both parties seem to be in agreement, in general, that Oklahoma must pass revenue raising measures in order to survive. Our core services such as, the Department of Human Services, law enforcement, and education have been cut to the bone. To the point even some of the staunchest anti-tax legislators are anxious about doling out another 14% across-the-board cut to DHS. This deficit would be devastating to Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children, especially for those in state care.
Our legislature convened this past Saturday, May 20th, in order to come to a consensus on the budget before hitting the deadline. Despite Saturday’s scramble at the Capitol, our legislature failed to come to an agreement. Because we are in the last week of session and a budget has not been agreed upon, our Governor will likely call a special session. Though a necessity, this special session is a bit counter-productive as each day costs Oklahoma roughly $35k.
Lani Habrock is the director of KIDS COUNT at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. As a former contender for the State House of Representatives she believes legislative advocacy is an important work we must all take responsibility for in order to create positive change for all children in our state on a population-wide level.