BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The Oklahoma Constitution requires that the state legislature wrap up its work no later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday in May. The deadline is called “Adjournment Sine Die” and literally means “adjournment without assigning a day for further meetings.” Arguably, it is about the only constitutional mandate that the Oklahoma Legislature obeyed this session.
When the dust settled, legislative leaders had cobbled together about $400 million in new revenue and transferred money from one fund to another to proudly claim that they had filled the nearly $900 million budget hole that was declared in early January.
Despite the self-accolades, Oklahoma’s 2017-18 budget is officially Code Blue.
By ignoring the constitutional sections that prohibit revenue raising measures from being considered in the last five days of session and require that all revenue raising measures receive the vote of 75% of the members of both the House and Senate and by grossly overestimating the revenue that certain measures will raise, the Legislature has passed a state budget bill that many observers, taxpayers and citizens believe will fail as early as July 1.
Consequently, while “adjournment sine die” normally means that the legislature’s work is done, this shaky budget may not survive judicial scrutiny or revenue reality. This is truly a year that reminds us of the phrase, “It isn’t over till the fat lady sings.”
While that colloquialism literally refers to the stereotypical overweight sopranos of the operatic stage, it is commonly used to caution against assuming that the current state of an event is irreversible and clearly determines how or when the event will end.
The most obvious structural problems with the budget arose because Senate Republicans refused to allow a meaningful adjustment in the Gross Production Tax on oil and gas and the GOP in both houses balked at rolling back the income tax cuts of the past eight years. As a result of those hard line positions, they sought revenue in other places that effectively continued a decade long process of shifting Oklahoma’s tax burden to working Oklahomans.
The “revenue adjustments” used to balance the budget included the “transfer” of $62 million from an empty Rainy Day Fund, enacting a sales tax on automobiles, adopting a cigarette tax of 7½ cents per cigarette and calling it a fee, and freezing Oklahomans’ standard income tax deduction. These and other measures “pretend” that bills that generate revenue aren’t “revenue bills” and that “fees” are not “taxes.”
A number of groups have stated that the constitutionality of these and other bills will be challenged and if they are determined to be unconstitutional, the hundreds of millions of dollars that are uncollectable will leave the budget in an unbalanced state. When those revenue figures that were artificially inflated [i.e. more than $70 million in cigarette revenue alone] are added in, revenue failure will place the budget in a predictable tailspin.
As much as we wish that the Legislature had done its job by the last Friday in May, it truly isn’t over until the fat lady sings.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House