As the possibility of a special legislative session looms, lawmakers are scrambling to figure out what they can do to make up the $215 million budget shortfall after Oklahoma’s “cigarette fee” was declared unconstitutional.
Earlier this month, Governor Mary Fallin said she wants a special session to make up the shortfall in the budget. Ardmore-area lawmakers are hoping they can strike a deal that crosses party lines, before a special session is called, so that less taxpayer dollars — dollars  they don’t have to waste— aren’t wasted.
“I’ve been in several meetings the last 7-8 days,” said Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Springer). “Our goal is to have a plan in place before going into special session. If the other taxes are deemed unconstitutional we will have to make up around $300 million.”
Simpson said he was on his way to the Capitol in order to discuss what can be done to make up the $215 million. Simpson said no matter what, something needs to be done to help the affected agencies.
Simpson said an idea he has heard passed around is raising the gross production tax on oil and gas. He added that the tax would be easier to implement in the Senate, but almost impossible in the House. Drawing out the special session for a long period of time can be detrimental as each day costs the taxpayer $30,000.
“We would have to go into session for a minimum of two weeks if we passed a revenue raising measure,” Simpson said, “because we have to stay in session for an additional five days for the measure to be constitutional. If we don’t, we’re right back where we started.”
A two-week special session would cost taxpayers around $420,000.
Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) said he’s heard plenty of ideas on how to fix the budget issue, but said some are unrealistic.
“Any increase in revenue this year is out because it will take too long to take effect,” Ownbey said. “We could do across the board cuts of three percent, or redistribute our budget. I would like to redistribute. I think we should go back  into our budget and look at what each agency can handle because some agencies have been cut to the bone already.”
Ownbey said, like Simpson, another idea he is in favor of would be a gross production tax on oil. Ownbey said Oklahoma’s tax is less than half of what other states charge, and those dollars could help make up the “budget crisis.”
“I think we have been in a budget crisis for a while,” Ownbey said. “For the last six years we have been in a cutting mode. We have cut some agencies by 45 percent. The reason I didn’t vote for the budget is because it was built around this cigarette tax, and I didn’t believe it would stand up to the Supreme Court.”
“Now, we’re going to have to look at cutting some of these agencies and they may have to cut services to citizens as a result,” he added.
The agencies currently impacted by the declaration of the “cigarette fee” as being unconstitutional are: the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services ($75 million cut), Human Services ($79 million cut), the Oklahoma Health Care Authority ($70 million cut) and the Able commission (the commission that enforces tobacco and alcohol laws saw a $1 million).
However, not all area legislatures are sounding the alarm.
Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) said a special session may not be necessary right now and that lawmakers need to wait and see what the Supreme Court decides on the other two laws that are being challenged: the automobile tax, which placed a 1.25 percent excise tax on motor vehicles, and the fuel tax fee, which charges a fee to compress natural gas for electric car owners. 
“We can always have a special session at the beginning of our next session if we need to,” Hardin said. “We need to see if the organizations can make it to March, and see if we can address the issue then.”