As the Oklahoma House of Representatives waits to learn if a budget deal could be struck during an unusual Saturday session 36 hours before the new-revenue deadline, three members of the 26-member Democratic caucus are at a conference in California.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) said today that Rep. Eric Proctor (D-Tulsa), Rep. Cory Williams (D-Stillwater) and Rep. Shane Stone (D-OKC) told him they would not be at the Oklahoma State Capitol this weekend, but he said he did not know they were out of state.
“I don’t require them to send me an itinerary,” Inman said when asked about the situation after a press conference.
Asked if he knew what the trio was doing in California, he said, “I don’t. You’d have to ask them.”
Proctor, Williams and Stone spoke to NonDoc together by speaker phone. The three said they are attending an Institute for Research on Presidential Elections conference.
Inman said “they were” at the Capitol on Friday, but the trio said they left Oklahoma about 6 a.m. Friday.
Proctor said he spoke to House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC) on Thursday to ask whether there might be floor votes Saturday. He said Echols implied that was unlikely.
“Once the floor calendar for today changed, we all looked at coming back today. But with flight schedules being the way they are, the earliest we could get back was 9:45 or 10 tonight,” Williams said. “Keep in mind, they didn’t decide to start running floor bills until this morning.”
The members’ absence means that, this weekend, Inman could not deliver the 26 floor votes he has promised for a 5 percent gross production tax deal even if it were agreed to and moved through committee today by Republicans.
“It doesn’t matter,” Inman said. “In order to make this work, I’ve told them if we can strike a deal and we run it through concurrent special session, I’ll have all 26 of my votes there Monday.”
But Echols disagreed and said he did not know Democratic votes — key to any tax package — were unavailable today.
“Leader Inman has never told that to [me], and it’s very disappointing,” Echols said. “He has always told us he could deliver all 26 of his members, and if he can’t, that would be news.”
He said he has been negotiating in good faith with Inman and believed everyone understood that lawmakers needed to be available this weekend for votes.
Inman said he told House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) Friday morning that some Democrats would be unavailable Saturday, though McCall said through his media team that the conversation took place Friday evening.
“I’ve said from the very beginning what I want is a budget,” Echols said. “It would be disappointing that members who know this is the last week of session would not be here if necessary. It’s not a Republican issue. It’s not a Democrat issue. Representing people for the state of Oklahoma is a privilege, and we need to take that privilege seriously.”
Williams admitted that “the timing sucks.”
“It’s a really fluid time in the House, but probably a bad time to have gone,” Williams said. “It honestly didn’t look like it was going to be a big deal. For 14 hours yesterday, everybody sat there twiddling their thumbs.”
He said they would be returning to Oklahoma on Sunday evening.
‘The state of Oklahoma owns you’
Echols said he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the 49th annual Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Service on Friday but skipped it to be at the Capitol in negotiations with Inman.
“I’ve had to be the bad guy,” Echols said. “I’ve told my members, ‘The state of Oklahoma owns you for this weekend.’ I’ve told them they’re on call this weekend. If I call them to be up here to do their jobs, I expect them to do their jobs. And I’m happy to be the bad guy because it’s a privilege to do this job.”
Inman, however, said he spoke to former House Speaker Chris Benge, McCall and McCall’s chief of staff, Rick Rose, who “said that basically any agreement we were going to roll out needed to be voted on last night in order to meet the Sunday deadline.”
“Right now, this is about [GOP leadership’s] refusal to move off of 4 percent (gross production tax),” Inman said. “They continue to believe that asking the oil and gas industry to pay all of $13 million next year is a fair and equitable trade for $400 million of tax increases on middle class families. It’s not.”
But multiple members of the House Democratic caucus seemed frustrated Saturday to learn that three of their members chose to leave the state.
“If that were true, I’d be really pissed about it,” said one House Democrat.
Proctor, Williams and Stone’s office doors were all shut Saturday with lights off and no one inside.
“We came prepared to cut a deal. We came here to reach a compromise,” Echols said. “Why would we want to go into a concurrent special session when we could just do our job in regular session? It doesn’t make any sense and it tries to get around the constitutional requirement.”
At his noon press conference, Inman said revenue negotiations have stalled around the topic of how far to raise the gross production tax.
McCall held a press conference after Inman, saying that an oil industry executive told both men that a raise to 5 percent GPT on new wells would trigger large industry layoffs. He criticized the three Democrats for their travel to San Francisco.
“It tells me that they’re not serious. It tells me that they don’t want to get this budget put together,” McCall said. “We could have a vote on the floor of the House today with 1) an agreement on a package, and 2) with them delivering at least 75 percent of their caucus.”
(Update: This post was updated at 2:50 p.m. Saturday, May 20, to include an additional statement from Scott Inman on the three lawmakers’ attendance Friday, as well as clarification of a quote by Jon Echols.)