BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The truth and nothing but the truth: For about 48 hours last week, it appeared that the Oklahoma Legislature had put aside partisan politics and reached a historic bipartisan budget deal that legitimately raised sufficient revenue to fund a decent raise for teachers, include something for school support personnel, state employees and enough dollars to fund about a textbook-and-a-half for Oklahoma students.
In what appeared at the time to be good faith negotiations, Republicans agreed to support an increase in the oil and gas Gross Production Tax rate from 2% to 5% and Democrats agreed to allow a cigarette tax and fuel tax to be assessed so long as the cigarette tax was not more than $1 per pack and the fuel tax did not exceed three cents per gallon on gasoline or six cents per gallon on diesel.
While the 3% increase in the GPT would not take it to the historic rate of 7%, Democrats viewed the GPT as progressive and agreed to accept it even though it was 2% less than the historic rate that most Oklahomans wanted restored. Democrats also feared that fuel taxes and tobacco taxes would inequitably harm working and low income Oklahomans and sought to have the historic 6% income tax rate on high wage earners restored.
While there was no agreement reached as to income taxes, the trade-off was a promise from the Republicans that the gasoline and cigarette tax increases would be low and the source of the last $50 million in revenue needed to fund raises and textbooks would be a $5 per night hotel tax.
The revenue measures were rolled into HB 1010XX and when the dust cleared at 8:55 p.m. on Monday, March 26, it appeared that oil and gas lobbyists had taken a back seat to the people of Oklahoma when 100% of the Democratic members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives joined with 70% of the Republican members to tally 78% of the total house and for the first time in state history exceed the constitutionally required 75% threshold for a revenue raising measure.
HB 1010XX was then sent to the Senate on what was to be a relatively quick vote before the bill went to Gov. Fallin’s desk.
Unfortunately, hours turned to days as the lobbyists from the hotel industry demanded that the hotel tax come out of the bill. Finally, at 7:25 p.m. in the evening on Wednesday, March 28, the Senate voted on and passed the bill by a bare 36-10 margin, but – to meet the demands of the lobbyists – refused to send it to the governor.
Word came back from across the rotunda that the Senate would hold the bill and would only allow it to be sent to the governor if the House agreed to repeal the hotel tax provisions. A shell bill, HB 1012XX was hurriedly amended so that it would meet the demands of the Senate. The bill was called on Thursday and after more than four hours of legal wrangling, suspension of multiple rules and heated debate by the Democrats in the House, the repeal bill passed on a purely partisan vote of 69 Republicans who agreed that a $5 hotel tax was a bridge too far and 26 Democrats opposing the repeal.
At the end of the day what had appeared to be historic votes by the House and the Senate, was really just a new strategy: Put anything in a bill to convince 75% of the members to vote for it and then before the ink is dry, emasculate it by removing anything from it that wealthy, corporate donors and lobbyists like those representing oil and gas and the hotel industry want stricken.
Trust us, they said.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House
Photo: Screenshot from former state Rep. James Lockhart’s Facebook page.