Thursday, August 10, 2017

House, Senate Democrats respond to cigarette tax ruling

The House and Senate Democratic caucuses have now issued statements over the Oklahoma Supreme Court striking down SB 845, the Cigarette Tax Smoking Cessation Fee.


House Democratic Caucus Releases Statement in Response to Oklahoma Court Ruling

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Senate Bill 845 is unconstitutional.

SB845 was projected to raise more than $200 million for the current state budget by charging cigarette wholesalers a $1.50 per pack tax. During the legislative session, however, House Democrats warned Republicans that passing the unconstitutional legislation would have a detrimental impact on our state budget and state agencies. The measure passed the House with a partisan vote of 51 to 43.

The proposed revenue from the tax affects 7 percent of the appropriated budget to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, 10 percent of the appropriated budget to the Department of Human Services, and 23 percent of the appropriated budget to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The court’s ruling will likely prompt a special session, costing the state an additional $30,000 per day, and requiring lawmakers to return to the capitol to fix the now incomplete budget.

“In order to appease special interests, Republicans made a decision to ignore the House Democratic Caucus, Oklahoma citizens and the Oklahoma Constitution,” said Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa. “As a result of that decision, we are now facing a $200 million hole in our current budget. It is time for the Republican Leadership to stop playing political games and to start working on real solutions to fund state government. As we have been all year, the Democratic Caucus stands ready to negotiate a long-term solution to fix Oklahoma’s funding crisis.”

Rep. Collin Walke, D- Oklahoma City, a freshman Legislator said that he was elected to work for every day Oklahomans, and reiterated, “The Democratic Caucus will not support a solution that depends on regressive taxes while wealthy individuals and corporations continue to receive government handouts through tax credits, exemptions, and a decade of irresponsible tax cuts. It is time for the Republican majority to realize that an investment in the people of Oklahoma is an investment in the future of our state and it is absolutely imperative that the cycle of crisis created by negligent budgeting practices end.”

House Democrats held a public budget forum in the House Chamber on August 3rd, inviting all members of the House to listen to statements regarding the importance of these now threatened core services and to begin the work to reach an agreement in the event any of the revenue raising measures were struck down.

After the Forum, Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman stated, “We were sent to the Capitol to act in the best interest of the people, to provide core services for those most in need, to fund our schools, and build infrastructure for growth. The Democratic Caucus released a compromise budget plan that incorporated stable revenue to not only fill the budget shortfall, but also began the process of restoring cuts that have taken place over the last ten years. We put out a call to ask the Majority Caucus to come to table and prepare for Special Session. Not a single member of the Republican Caucus showed up.”

The House Democratic Caucus is urging the Governor to call a Special Session immediately. Several members are requesting legislation be drafted reflecting proposals contained in the Restoring Oklahoma Plan, released in March of this year, with the intention to maximize the time used in a Special Session to not only restore cuts tied to the cigarette tax but also to put Oklahoma on a better path forward.



Oklahoma Senate Democrats Issue Statement on Today’s Supreme Court Ruling Declaring “Cigarette Fee” Unconstitutional

The Oklahoma Senate Democratic caucus issued a statement Thursday through their leader, Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, commenting on the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the “cigarette fee” and declaring it an unconstitutional tax:

“The opinion issued today by the Oklahoma Supreme Court finding that the so-called “cigarette fee” passed by the legislature was, in fact, an unconstitutional tax comes as no surprise. We knew this tax was unconstitutional when it was passed by the legislature back in May. We made the same arguments that the Court has articulated in today’s opinion when Republican leadership at the Capitol was playing partisan political games and pushing this desperate revenue measure through during the last hours of the 2017 regular session.

“This kind of unconstitutional legislation is nothing new from the Republican leadership at the Capitol. Unfortunately, we are used to wasting money paying lawyers to defend their unconstitutional bills. What makes this situation new, and worse, is that now we are going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in a special session doing the job that should have been done back in May.

“We need to approach a special session thoughtfully with real plans for revenue measures that can fill the $215 million budget hole which has been created at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority and the Department of Human Services. We need to set clear priorities, take hard votes and make tough choices with all revenue options on the table for open, transparent discussion and debate. This is a time for cooperation and compromise. This is the time for a plan of action, accountability and real results. This is what our constituents demand of us and what they deserve from us with no exceptions and no excuses.

“We cannot continue to let the most vulnerable Oklahomans suffer because of a continued lack of leadership among the Republicans at the Capitol and their unwillingness to do the hard work and take the hard votes necessary to properly and fully fund our healthcare agencies.”

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