Fallin, Republicans announce tax hike plan for budget fix
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders announced a deal Monday to shore up the state budget and raise pay for teachers and some state workers with a series of tax increases, but it’s unclear if the plan would have enough support to pass.
Flanked by about a dozen state House and Senate Republicans, Fallin outlined some of the pact’s details, including a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax, a 6-cents-per-gallon fuel tax and a tax increase on alcoholic beverages. The proposal also calls for restoring the earned income tax credit claimed by hundreds of thousands of low-income Oklahomans and giving teachers a $3,000 pay raise, effective in August 2018. Some state workers also would receive a $1,000 pay hike.
“This package is not perfect, but it is very good,” Fallin said. “We are still working on the details.”
Fallin, House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz didn’t field any questions about the proposal, and Democrats whose votes would be needed to pass any tax increase through the House sounded skeptical.
“It’s sad, because this is all another dog-and-pony show to protect big oil. They know the votes aren’t there within their own caucus or our caucus,” said Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, the second-ranking Democrat in the House. “I don’t think the people of Oklahoma are going to buy that we need to raise taxes on gasoline to protect big oil.”
Senate Democratic leader John Sparks called Fallin’s announcement a “media exercise” and said there aren’t enough votes to pass the plan.
Because a tax increase requires a three-fourth’s vote in both chambers of the Legislature, some Democrats would need to support any tax hike in the House, where Republicans have a 72-28 advantage. But Democrats have consistently said they won’t support a cigarette tax or fuel tax hike without corresponding increases in the production tax on oil and natural gas or the income tax on high earners.
Fallin called the Legislature back into session in September after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a cigarette tax approved by a simple majority in the House was unconstitutional because it didn’t receive the three-fourth’s vote needed for a tax hike. That left a $215 million hole in the current year’s budget that threatens to decimate funding for public health and social services programs.
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