Legislators say amendment change will help budget
DUNCAN Two area lawmakers said Friday that it may be time to turn back a constitutional amendment that they say has impeded efforts to solve Oklahoma's persistent budget problems.
Sen. Chris Kidd of Waurika and Rep. Marcus McEntire of Duncan, both Republicans, met with several dozen constituents at a "legislative coffee" sponsored by the Duncan Chamber of Commerce at Cameron University-Duncan. Much of the discussion centered on the state's difficulties in raising revenues and its continuing budget failures, the latest of which resulted this week in school districts and agencies bracing for a new round of spending cuts.
State Question 640, which was passed by voters in 1992, amended the Oklahoma Constitution to require either a positive outcome in a general election or a 75 percent majority vote in both chambers of the Legislature to raise taxes in Oklahoma. While they said they understood and appreciated the amendment's intent, both Kidd and McEntire said they believe it has had the effect of allowing responsible governance to be stalled by relatively small minorities of lawmakers.
They pointed out that a package of proposed tax increases on fuel, tobacco and energy production, labeled the Step Up plan, that might have generated cash enough to fill the state's current budget hole and allow for much-needed teacher pay raises, garnered clear majority support this week in the Legislature but ultimately failed because "yes" votes didn't meet the 75 percent threshold.
McEntire said relatively small numbers of legislators on both extremes of the political spectrum, Democrat and Republican, effectively controlled the outcome. He used the word "handcuffed" to describe how difficult it is for lawmakers to pass measures to increase revenues, even if they're in broad agreement.
"What it really does is allow the minority any minority to usurp the will of the majority," he said, adding that he would be in favor of giving Oklahomans an opportunity to revisit SQ 640.
Since passage of SQ 640, Sooner State voters have approved just a single tax increase, a hike in the tobacco tax in 2004. Kidd said difficulty in meeting the amendment's requirements has contributed to budget shortfalls when the state's economy has dipped in years since, "and this year it's just compounded."