Legislature will avoid special session, lawmaker says, as cigarette fee proposed to close budget hole

From The Tulsa World, May 23, 2017


OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers will attempt to pass a $1.50 fee on cigarettes in lieu of a tax in an effort to close the state's budget hole, a well-placed source told Tulsa World on Tuesday.

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said lawmakers expect to be adjourned by Friday. He said lawmakers will avoid a special session.

The cigarette fee is expected to generate $215 million.

Passing a fee increases requires only 51 votes in the House as opposed to 76 for tax increases. The GOP-controlled House has been unable to pass it as a tax.

The fee will be used to fund a tobacco-cessation package that would include enforcement measures, a ban on smoking at state property and a ban on smoking in a car with a child 13 or younger. 

Democrats have said they will not go along with a tax increase unless the gross production tax is also raised.

If the measure passes the House, it is expected to secure approval in the Senate.

Democrats, Republicans and Gov. Mary Fallin's office have been meeting behind closed doors in an effort to strike an agreement.

Echols said some agencies such as common ed, mental health and public safety will see increases. Another 15 agencies' budgets will be held flat, he said. Other agencies can expect cuts of 4 percent to 6 percent. Echols said the numbers are still being discussed and could change. 

The budget agreement will also include a levy on the sale of new and used vehicles to generate $125 million.

Lawmakers are trying to close a nearly $878 million budget hole.

Lawmakers have to adjourn by 5 p.m. Friday unless there is a special session.

Fallin has said she will veto a budget that contains deep cuts to agencies.