A Republican revenue package intended to end Oklahoma’s special legislative session and fund health care agencies failed today on the House floor, with GOP leaders unable to woo Democratic votes without a gross production tax increase.
Needing 76 votes to pass as a revenue-raising measure, the final total was 54-44. Democrats had told Republican leaders for weeks in special session and months in regular session that a gross production tax increase would be required for their support, but GOP leadership called Wednesday’s vote anyway.
Rep. Eric Proctor (D-Tulsa) took to the House’s central podium to debate against the bill and grew emotional.
“After 11 years, members, I am tired. I am tired of gimmicks,” said Proctor, his voice quivering. “I am tired of my state that I love being dead last in everything we should be first in and first in everything we should be last in. Members, I am so tired. This bill is a Band-Aid on a heart attack when what this Legislature needs is a heart transplant.”
Other Democrats also debated against the bill, referencing Tuesday’s mental health rally at the Capitol.
“The stories I heard yesterday, it broke my heart. And if it didn’t break your heart, then you shouldn’t be here,” said Rep. Collin Walke (D-OKC) during debate on the bill. “What happened Monday was political theater. This isn’t real. You’re going to vote for something in 20 minutes that everyone in this room right now knows is going to fail.”
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Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) carried the bill and debated in favor, saying he could not believe Democrats who said it contained nothing they could support when it would restore the refundability of the earned income tax credit and include a 2018 teacher pay raise.
“The last time the tax on fuels was raised was 1987. That’s 30 years ago,” Wallace said. “We know teachers need a pay raise. We have to have the revenue to do that. State employees need a pay raise. We’ve got to have the revenue to do that.
“The reason we are here in special session is that we have three agencies that are in dire need. Those of you who are holding out thinking there is a better bill coming, there is not.”
Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) debated against the bill.
“I have been lectured over ‘do the right thing,’ The right thing for Oklahoma was not to cut the income tax, and I voted no,” Virgin said. “The right thing for Oklahoma was not to cut the gross production and I voted no. The right thing for Oklahoma would have been to accept Medicaid expansion, and we begged you to do that. Medicaid expansion would have done far more for the health of Oklahomans than a cigarette tax.”
Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) debated in favor of Wednesday’s revenue vote.
“Visit with your constituents and I believe most will tell you to use common sense in your decisions. Common sense, not ideology, not politics,” Ownbey said. “Seems like we get here and something happens. It’s transformation of some kind, and common sense seems to go out the door sometimes in the place of politics.
“Everywhere I go, they’re fed up. We can’t get a decision from this body.”
Ownbey chastised colleagues for running for re-election on a vote.
“There are times that we have to make the tough votes,” he said. “Now here we are. How many weeks now into special session? And here we are again. Politics front and center. Pretty well divided amongst political lines. Meanwhile, in the real world, the people of this great state prepare for the worst. Again.
“Haven’t we set a wonderful climate in this Legislature? The problem is we are all to blame.”