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Charles McCall Jon Echols
House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) speaks to media late Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in the Oklahoma House of Representatives lounge. (William W. Savage III)
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Flanked by members of the Step Up Oklahoma coalition, House Speaker Charles McCall held a press conference at 9:30 this evening “to make one last plea” for more House Democrats to flip their vote on a revenue bill that has been open since about 4:25 p.m.

Asked why GOP leaders were not calling for more Republican no votes to shift from red to green, House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC) said a few Republicans could change but that “we need a bipartisan agreement” to gain the 13 votes needed on the pending HB 1033XX tax package.

“Eventually, maybe we have to realize that maybe the other side doesn’t want to make a deal,” Echols said. “If this bipartisan package can’t pass, then nothing can pass.”

Reached after the GOP presser, House Minority Caucus Chairwoman Emily Virgin (D-Norman) said Democrats asked for changes to the proposal that were not offered.

“My thoughts are the speaker can amend the bill to include the things we asked for to make this more equitable, or he can ask 13 of his 18 members voting no to flip their votes,” Virgin said. “We asked for several things in negotiations to make this plan more equitable and we didn’t receive those.”

McCall (R-Atoka) said he hoped Democrats would bring the same 23 members on board that voted for a November revenue bill that fell five votes shy.

“We have been on this journey for over a year trying to find a package that requires 76 votes — a 75 percent supermajority of the House of Representatives — to pass,” McCall said. “We have tried multiple things. We have negotiated in good faith. But every time, we fall short.”

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BancFirst executive chairman David Rainbolt, a leader of the Step Up Oklahoma coalition, said the past weeks of negotiations taught him something “that shocked me.”

“Going into this process, we frankly knew that there was a contingent on the far right that actually wanted a financial apocalypse — that it would deliver to them a scenario where finally everyone would realize that by making Oklahoma less significant, by shrinking our education system, by making our institutions of higher learning smaller, by cutting those, by cutting health care, that somehow we would make ourselves better,” Rainbolt said. “The thing I learned is that there is an equal constituency on the far left that wants that same financial apocalypse. It seems that they believe if that happens voter registration would magically shift.”

Virgin said “that assessment is ridiculous.”

“We want this plan to be fair and for oil and gas to pay their fair share,” she said “We are standing on the side of working Oklahomans.”

House Democrats argued on the floor during debate that GOP claims today’s vote was the last possible revenue package are “disingenuous.”

‘They chose wind over teacher pay’

Former Oklahoma State Treasurer Scott Meacham, a Democrat, helped lead “shuttle diplomacy” between Republicans and Democrats before and after the vote opened Monday. He said those negotiations placed a state employee pay raise on the table.

“Clearly, they were holding out for more,” Meacham said. “By and large, they’ve all left the building. We were actually in negotiations with Democratic leadership, but they got up and left, so we decided to call it a day at that point.”

Meacham joined Echols in saying Democrats were protecting the wind industry from new taxes and a cap on lucrative tax credits.

“The big stumbling block is wind has spent millions of dollars in this state to kill this deal because they didn’t like the fact they were going to have to pay some taxes in the state of Oklahoma,” Meacham said.

Echols phrased it a different way.

“The bottom line is they chose wind over teacher pay,” Echols said.

Mark Yates, Oklahoma director of the Wind Coalition, responded to that argument with a statement:

The Wind Industry, at the request of the Step Up group, was asked to create revenue for the state of Oklahoma. We offered two very fair and reasonable offers looking forward: 1) Tax us exactly like oil and gas; 2) Tax all power generation the same with a nameplate capacity tax which would create $55 million in revenue. It’s very apparent that anti-wind forces within the group have created the impasse that exists currently. The wind industry continues to work with elected officials for fair solutions. The wind industry already pays a higher tax rate than oil and gas and believes punitive action toward wind is to the detriment of our state’s business reputation. The blame lies not with wind or a political party but with those seeking unreasonable and unfair treatment.

(Update: This story was updated at 11:35 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, to include a quote from Mark Yates.)