The Oklahoma legislature has laid out about every use tax option on the table in hopes of plugging a $215 million budget hole.
A special session called by Gov. Mary Fallin continues since starting Monday at the Capitol, and state lawmakers anticipate work to span at least through the coming weekend. At an estimated cost of $30,000 per day, representatives say their best interest, and that of state citizens, is to solve the puzzle as soon as possible.
Potential tax bumps for items including cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline and more are under deliberation. Oklahoma legislation seeks to prevent further reductions in state funding.
“Progress is measured in inches rather than leaps and bounds right now,” said Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Springer) who represents Carter, Johnston, Love and Murray Counties.
Simpson said state entities like the Department of Corrections, Education, Mental Health and more swallow nearly 95 percent of Oklahoma’s budget.
“We’re pretty cut to the bone,” Simpson said. “And we can’t cut our way out of this.”
The State Senate passed HB 1099 Tuesday, a revised version of the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax the state Supreme Court overturned as unconstitutional last session for lack of a three-fourths majority vote from the legislature which is required to pass any revenue raising measure.  
Simpson said the bill is similar to the previous one, but with minute changes. Its full passage all the way up to Fallin’s signature by Oct. 2 is preferred, as a later approval could result in the tax going into effect by Feb. 1 of next year instead of Jan. 1. A move Simpson said could cost the state a potential tax income of about $22 million.
The senator said the House of Representatives should see that bill on the floor Wednesday, but Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) expressed doubt in its approval that he attributed to political divide, not only among Republicans versus Democrats, but also within parties.
The situation stems from State Question 640, a citizen-initiated ballot measure passed in 1992. The bill stipulates revenue bills can only pass if a three-fourths vote from both legislative chambers and a signature from the Governor is achieved.
Ownbey is in favor of the bill not only for its tax benefits, but for the indirect benefits afforded by discouraging smoking.
He said the state pays billions each year toward treatment for tobacco-related illnesses, and before the state banned smoking in restaurants and state-owned property, smokers were more prevalent than they are now.
Ownbey doubts the House can deliver a 75 percent approval, despite supporting the legislation. Ideological divide continues to fester in both Republicans and Democrats, he said.
“It’s really difficult because we have such a high bar with these revenues,” Ownbey said. “The fear is we’re going to do away with services for a lot of things. That’s certainly something we do not want to see, and we’re going to have to make some changes.”