Democratic state Representatives seek to engage public on budget plan

OKLAHOMA CITY — Citing recent court filings to strike down approximately $317 million of the current state budget, House Democrats are calling on all members of the Oklahoma House, in the words of a press release circulated Wednesday (June 19), :to get to work crafting a contingency plan. Caucus members contend that the budget plan currently in effect will leave vulnerable citizens, school children, public safety, and infrastructure at risk of mid-year cuts as a result of potential legal rulings.”
By negotiating measures now to fill the current revenue hole from the use of one-time funds and the potentially impending revenue loss, the state would save time and money by guaranteeing a shorter special legislative session. A special session typically costs $30,000 per day.
Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, contends, “If we wait until our backs are against the wall, a special session could last weeks while negotiations are ongoing. We need to get negotiations completed now to meet the contingencies that are likely to arise.”
In addition, the Democratic Caucus will organize a public comment portion of an envisioned meeting to allow constituents an opportunity to share directly with lawmakers how budget cuts will affect them personally. “If this is truly the people’s house, and this is the people’s budget, we feel it’s important to get their input and we invite them to take an active role in this meeting,” said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman. “Special interests and lobbyists had their say on the budget during the four-month regular session, and it’s put the state in a real bind.”
Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, added, “We know that every dollar in the budget means something to somebody – whether it’s access to medical care, access to food, access to education – these dollars are meaningful. The people should have the opportunity, without the interference of political games; to tell lawmakers what they believe is a priority for the state.”
Funds at risk are primarily those from Senate Bill 845, a measure that added an additional smoking cessation “fee” to each pack of cigarettes sold by a wholesaler, and funds from House Bill 2433, which imposes a 1.25 percent sales tax on the sale of all motor vehicles.
S.B. 845 would provide $70 million to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, $75 million to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and $69 million to the Department of Human Services, the press release stated. 
Funds from H.B. 2433, another measure enacted during the regular session this spring, would be divided among all agencies that receive General Revenue funds, including the Department of Education, Public Safety, and the Teachers’ Retirement System.
“It is imperative that we seriously consider all revenue measures and put what is best for the state, not what is best for big money interests, forward. We have the opportunity to avoid the budget gridlock that kept the state paralyzed in the final weeks of this past session,” said Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs. Rep. Kouplen is set to become the Democratic Caucus Leader in 2018.
A public meeting will be held Thursday, Aug. 3, in the House Chamber at the State Capitol, beginning at 5 p.m. All sitting members of the state House of Representatives and the state Senate are invited to attend.
Those wishing to address members of the House, the Democratic press release explained, are asked to call (405) 557-7401 to provide first and last name in addition to topic area of concern by no later than 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1. Time allotted will be limited based on number of requests received.