OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO) - At least one Oklahoma lawmaker is in favor of a special legislative session.
"This is an opportunity for a do-over, a chance to do what we should have done in the regular session," which extended for four months, from February 1 through May 27, Rep. Richard Morrissette said.
The governor has been in discussions with Republican legislative leaders about a special session to consider a pay raise for school teachers, and to decide what to do with $140.8 million in "surplus" state revenue from budget cutbacks imposed earlier this year that were deeper than necessary.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City attorney David Slane filed suit August 9 in the Oklahoma Supreme Court against the Governor and on behalf of six clients who contend the unspent funds should be restored proportionally to the state agencies from which it was withheld.
"The Legislature's primary function is to prepare the state budget," said Morrissette. "We need to return to the Capitol and develop a sensible, responsible, adequate state budget."
Morrissette believe state lawmakers should re-evaluate their extensive list of draconian budget cuts, and revisit the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits, tax rebates and other tax incentives they've awards to corporations and to the oil and gas industry.
This is an opportunity for the Legislature to "respond to the needs of the people of Oklahoma," Morrissette said; state legislators ought to "stop listening to the lobbyists and fatcats, and start listening to their constituents – the people who sent us to the State Capitol. We need to do the job for which we were elected the last time, and stop worrying about the next election."
Morrissette contends that during the special session, all 149 legislators should donate their salaries to the state's General Revenue Fund "as a show of good faith" to their constituents.
The Legislature has imposed "debilitating, draconian budget cuts" on state agencies in recent years, Morrissette said. "We need to reverse this trend of budget-making with a meat-axe."
Following are just a few of the core state services that have already been reduced or are envisioned in the near future:
- The State Health Department’s appropriation has been cut by 26% in the last eight years: from $75 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to $54.9 million for Fiscal Year 2017.
- The Department of Human Services is coping with a net budget shortfall of $103 million, Director Ed Lake reports, which includes the most recent state budget cut of $45.1 million and matching federal funds.
- The state recently cut $300,000 from the suicide hotline, despite statistics which show that, on average, one person dies by suicide in Oklahoma every 13 hours.
- The state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (DMHSAS) receives less state funding today than it did a year ago when Republican State Labor Commissioner Mark Costello was murdered, allegedly by his son who suffers from mental illness.
- The Corrections Department has approximately $1 billion in deferred maintenance needs, primarily because of the age of the facilities, many of which are about a century old.
- Department of Public Safety officials announced last week they are considering unpaid furloughs of up to 23 days for employees, including Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers.
- State colleges and universities have raised tuition to offset the almost 17% budget reduction the GOP Legislature approved for Higher Education earlier this year. The State Regents for Higher Education received an appropriation of $810 million for FY 2017, compared to their $963 million appropriation for FY 2016.
- More than 100 public school districts have cut back to four-day school weeks because of repeated cuts to education in recent years.
"This depressing list goes on and on and on," Morrissette. "The Legislature ought to start over and re-examine the entire state budget."