Seeking to close the $878 million budget gap with time running out, Oklahoma lawmakers take up a new so-called “big bill.”
All told, the changes are worth $386 million. House Bill 2414 raises cigarette taxes $1.50 per pack, raises gas and diesel taxes $0.06 per gallon, and reduces the time oil and gas production is taxed at 2 percent from 36 months to 18.
Minority Leader Scott Inman said Oklahomans deserve better.
"We're in this mess because of $1.5 billion worth of income tax cuts, $2 billion worth of tax credits and exemptions, and the most generous gross production tax cuts of any major oil- and gas-producing state in the nation," Inman said. "We're not in this mess because cigarettes are too cheap or because gas prices are too cheap."
House Democrats oppose HB2414, but Republican Rep. Kevin Calvey also voted no in Tuesday’s meeting of the House Joint Appropriations and Budget Committee.
"The reason we're in where we're at now is because this state has a spending addiction," Calvey said. "If we just paper over that with revenue, it is like giving more booze to an alcoholic."
Rep. Leslie Osborn said lawmakers have grown complacent with the state’s poor rankings in health, education and other areas.
"At some point, we have to do what's right for the future of our children, for our rural health care, for our public safety, for our corrections officers, who are understaffed, for all these types of things — substandard bridges," Osborn said. "At some point, if we can't man up in this room, then none of us should have been elected."
Complicating matters is House Bill 2349, which increases teacher salary levels $1,000, is contingent upon HB2414 passing. Some lawmakers have also asked how HB2414 isn't logrolling, pointing out the cigarette and fuel tax increases are revenue measures, while the change in how gross production is taxed may not be.
The House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget passed the bill 18–9.
Republican leaders have repeatedly assured Oklahomans a budget will be passed without going into special session. The legislature adjourns next Friday.