OKLAHOMA CITY — House Republicans on Monday proposed a series of tax cuts designed to provide inflation relief to struggling Oklahomans as requested by Gov. Kevin Stitt, but also unveiled a plan to pay for them in part by slashing the Governor’s Office budget.
The idea of any tax cuts, though, apparently faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, whose leadership said Monday that they’re still awaiting a specific plan from the Republican governor despite Stitt’s decision to order them back to the Capitol for special session to consider inflation relief. Senators said they first saw the House’s plan when it was publicly unveiled Monday.
House Republican leadership penned a series of inflation relief measures that included permanent or temporary income tax reductions ranging from 0.25% to 0.50% as well as a permanent or temporary elimination of the state’s share of the grocery tax. One proposal also suggests permanently abolishing local grocery taxes or prohibiting any such future collections.
Among the options to help fund the tax cuts, House Republicans filed legislation to cut the Governor’s Office budget by more than half, reduce the budget of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which Stitt controls, by $45 million and slash the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s budget by $193.12 million.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said he expects some combination of, but not all, the proposals to pass, and insisted the proposed budget cuts to Stitt’s office and the other two agencies were not designed to be retaliatory despite a high-profile dustup between lawmakers and Stitt.
“The House is presenting options to, once again, start and lead a thoughtful conversation on the best path forward for inflation relief,” McCall said.
As regular session wrapped up last month, Stitt rebuked Republican lawmakers, saying their budget was shaped by “backroom deals” and didn’t provide “real inflation relief” for struggling Oklahomans. He said Oklahomans don’t need “political gimmicks,” and said the plan to issue $75 rebate checks to all taxpayers was a “slap in the face of hardworking Oklahomans.” He later vetoed the plan and other parts of the budget.
He said that the budget contains “special carve-outs that are the result of backroom deals between lobbyists and legislators” that were not in the state’s best interest, and he also said he feared that lawmakers would spread nearly $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid “like mayonnaise across the state of Oklahoma” rather than spending it strategically.
Oklahoma lawmakers then punched back at the governor on the final day of session, issuing a slew of veto overrides the day after.
House lawmakers later said they’d return as ordered for Stitt’s special session to take up inflation relief, but said they’d do it on their own terms.
With record inflation and troubling indications about the direction of the nation’s economy, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said his chamber remains committed to working on tax reform, but “we’re not just going to throw every idea against the wall and hope something sticks.”
“We’re going to have a serious, mature conversation about real tax reform, comprehensive tax reform,” Treat said.
He said the Senate will create a task force to look into tax reform. He did not have a timetable for when that probe would be completed.
Treat also said senators wouldn’t be involved in any “political shenanigans” resulting from the strained relationship between the state House and the governor.
He said Stitt issued an executive order calling lawmakers to special session with “zero plan to get there.”
The Republican governor still hasn’t given state senators any details on what exactly he wants lawmakers to accomplish, and Treat said “we’re not just going to go out there and jump to whenever he asked us to do something without a thoughtful approach.”
“To say the governor’s plan is dead on arrival, I think, would be a misnomer,” Treat said. “The governor’s plan hasn’t arrived yet, so we’re waiting to see what that plan is.”
Stitt’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The House plans to vote on their tax measures Wednesday.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.