Prosperity Policy: Mission: not impossible.
Byline: David Blatt
Earlier this year, I visited Israel as part of an interfaith group of Oklahomans. While there we received a discouraging briefing on the chances for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. "The two-state solution has become impossible, the expert explained. "The one-state solution is also impossible. And the status quo? It's impossible, too." As Oklahoma enters the third week of special session, a solution to the budget deadlock can seem as unattainable as settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are ongoing negotiations led by Gov. Mary Fallin on a two-party agreement that would fill the $214 million hole created by the Oklahoma Supreme Courts decision striking down the smoking cessation fee without any further cuts. The deal on the table, which would require supermajority support to comply with State Question 640, includes tobacco tax and motor fuel tax increases favored by Republicans along with a higher initial rate on the gross production tax and a higher top income tax rate favored by Democrats. Republican hard-liners, led by House Speaker Charles McCall and members of his caucus, have rejected the bipartisan plan. They're instead pushing a one-party plan needing only a simple majority that would remove sales tax exemptions on tobacco and motor fuel purchases, along with making more cuts to state agencies. The House Republican plan seems impossible because Gov. Fallin has promised to veto any budget that further cuts state agencies. It's also not clear their plan could muster a simple majority from the House and Senate. If lawmakers fail to agree on any plan, the entire $214 million cut would hit three critical agencies: the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Department of Human Services, and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Service. Lawmakers are well aware that the impact on the state's health and human service providers and our most vulnerable citizens would be unimaginable, if not impossible. As challenging as Oklahoma's situation seems, our problems are nowhere near as intractable as the Middle East. If Speaker McCall chooses to stand up to the oil and gas industry and to the most vocal anti-tax interest groups, a bipartisan agreement is attainable. Democrats may have to look at some alternative options that will still ensure that wealthy Oklahomans and corporations pay their fair share. It will take leadership, goodwill and compromise, which shouldn't be impossible. David Blatt is executive director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, http://okpolicy.org.
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