OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma House and Senate recessed from the special session on Wednesday without a deal to close an estimated $215 million state budget shortfall, which could deal a crippling blow to agencies that provide health care services to the poor and mentally ill.
The House, where revenue raising measures are required to originate, recessed after it became clear there weren’t 76 members willing to support a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase to help restore the lost funding. The Legislature earlier this year approved a similar cigarette tax with a simple-majority vote, but the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional because it was passed in the last five days of session and didn’t receive the required three-fourth’s vote needed for a revenue bill.
Republicans have a 72-28 advantage in the House, but some GOP members oppose any tax increases and many Democrats have said they won’t support a cigarette tax hike without an agreement to also increase either the tax on oil and gas production or income on those families earning more than $200,000 per year.
“Until that time that there is an agreement, we have made the decision to adjourn to the call of the chair,” said House Speaker Charles McCall. He said he plans to continue negotiating with the governor, Senate and Democratic leaders.
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McCall and House Republicans appear to be at odds with Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and Senate Republicans, both of whom have offered up a number of revenue-raising proposals this year to help shore up the budget, including a tax on motor fuel and an expansion of the sales tax to include a variety of services that currently are exempt.
Without a deal to close the budget gap, the $215 million shortfall would fall on three agencies to which that revenue was earmarked: the Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state agency that oversees Medicaid.
DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said if no legislative fix is enacted, the agency would be forced to cut about $69 million, or 10 percent of its budget. Those cuts likely would target the Advantage program, which uses a combination of state and federal dollars to provide home-based services to elderly Oklahomans to keep them from going into more costly nursing homes.
“We have submitted to the Legislature a lot of different options, none of which we would want to do,” Powell said.
Oklahoma has been grappling with three consecutive years of plunging state revenues that resulted from years of cutting taxes on income and oil and gas production and an overall decline in the energy sector, a key component of the state’s economy.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Health, which reported a nearly 30 percent reduction in state appropriations since 2009, said it planned to begin furloughing its workers next month for one day without pay every two weeks to help that agency shore up an estimated $10 million shortfall.
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