The halls of Oklahoma’s Capitol were flooded Thursday with demonstrators from either side of the raging debate surrounding the gross production tax of oil and gas wells.
As pro-industry demonstrators bused in from Continental Resources to oppose raising the GPT, they held signs and wore stickers to make their case. Slogans included, “DON’T KILL OKLAHOMA JOBS” and “OIL AND GAS VOTES TOO”.
Amid the throng, Rep. Forrest Bennett (D-Oklahoma City) engaged one such individual in a debate that appeared visibly tense.
Given the poor acoustics of the stone-floored hallway, some of the dialogue in the video above gets lost in the background noise. To that end, a transcript of the discernible audio appears below for the benefit of our viewers.
Bennett: Tell me what to say to my constituents who call me, who live on $700 a month or less, who [unintelligible] in services, when I have the knowledge that oil and gas professionals have come to me and said, ‘A 3 percent increase in gross production tax does not affect us,’ but when someone calls me who makes $700 a month tells me that any type of regressive tax hurts them so much, tell me what I’m supposed to say to them.
Demonstrator: Tell them now is not the time. With oil sliding down at $45 a barrel, you can go talk to the 3,000 people that got laid off from Devon and SandRidge and find different answers. I understand you represent your district, but you’ve gotta talk to others as well.
Bennett: I understand that.
Demonstrator: Right. There’s other cows to milk than this.
Bennett: I don’t want to talk about this issue like it’s cow’s milk. I want to talk about it like it’s human beings who are really hurting.
Demonstrator: And there’s thousands of unemployed people that are hurting because prices are already low, the companies shut their doors. So those people have already lost their jobs. I understand there are different situations, but you’ve got to think about them as well. And that makes up a portion of your district as well.
Bennett: I know, and I want you to understand that I lose sleep over [unintelligible] like this. I really do.
Demonstrator: I understand.
Bennett: But when job creators come to me and they tell me that 5 percent’s not going to affect their bottom line, when job creators …
Demonstrator: Five percent is a massive, massive cut …
Bennett: Five percent [unintelligible] OK. If you and I were at the negotiating table …
Bennett: And I started out by saying I wanted 7 percent on all wells starting January 1st of this year, and you said, ‘Absolutely not,’ and then I finally came around to 5 percent on only new wells after July 1st, would you understand that that is coming a long way?
Demonstrator: That doesn’t mean anything, though. Alright? I understand that that’s a compromise in your mind from where we are now to where you want to be, but that still puts a heavy [unintelligible] burden on our industry that is already a large portion of this state’s revenue. So you push that down further, and you have a possibility of losing much more than … Three percent is a big number. When it’s already at 2, you more than double it, by adding that.
Bennett: I hate that anybody has to lose their job.
Demonstrator: That’s what you’re risking here as well. I understand you represent people who live on $700 a month. I can’t talk to that. I don’t know …
Demonstrator: But you’ve already lost thousands of jobs in the industry across the state, and by more than doubling the production tax for the first couple months for, what, three years, then you increase pressure on all of us, all the people at Devon, SandRidge who’ve already lost their jobs, Chesapeake; I mean they’re our major employers in the state that depend on that 3 percent.
Bennett: It’s at 2 percent.
Demonstrator: Right now, and you’re talking compromise is an additional 3 percent, that’s what you just told me.
Demonstrator: That’s what you just said.
Bennett: An increase of 3 percent.
Bennett: To 5 percent.
Demonstrator: And that’s a huge number.
[Conversation pauses as another demonstrator with young children begins addressing the oil and gas contingent lining the halls about public schools.]
Demonstrator: It’s a hot debate.
Bennett: It is, man, and I think we’re going to be at an impasse, but I want you to know I came back to talk to you because …
[Cheering and clapping from down the hall interrupts the dialogue.]
Bennett: Do you think it’s right for oil and gas people to shout down a public school parent?
Demonstrator: I don’t know if that’s what just happened. That’s an assumption. Don’t play this up [unintelligible]. You don’t know what she said, you don’t know what else was said.
Bennett: I …
Demonstrators on both sides of the GPT issue have been making their voices heard all day Thursday. Earlier in the morning, the organization Let’s Fix This handed out life preservers to promote a Titanic-themed demonstration organized by the Save Our State coalition.
— OPEA (@OklaPEA) May 18, 2017
With time quickly running out for revenue-raising measures to pass this week and party leadership pointing fingers over budget tweaks, civic-minded citizens and industry-affiliated groups alike are vying for the attention of harried lawmakers.