After months of meetings, studies and the occasional grandstanding, legislators are now tasked with their most important duty at the statehouse. Passing a workable budget.
With another nearly billion dollar shortfall, and the absence of one-time funds used previously to shore up the now annual shortfalls, legislators face two possible options. Implement devastating cuts to core government services, or raise taxes, however, Governor Mary Fallin has threatened to veto any budget that does not include new revenues.
“The governor came out and blasted the legislature, Rep. Pat Ownbey, (R-Ardmore) said during the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon Friday in the Ardmore Convention Center, “I don’t agree with the governor very much, many times I find myself in complete difference of opinion, but I have to agree with her on this.”
Legislators have struggled to agree on which revenues, or tax increases to implement with some members steadfastly refusing to increase any taxes under any circumstance.  
“As Republicans, we run on smaller government, we want the efficiency,” Owbney said. “A lot of members have signed those pledges to not raise any taxes, which, obviously, none of us want to do, Democrats or Republican, but sometimes it is a necessary evil.”
Oklahoma requires a 2/3 majority to pass any tax increase in the legislature, despite owning a majority in the state house and senate,
Republicans currently do not own enough seats in either body to pass a revenue increase without the help of several Democrats.
Ownbey said that cuts to agencies — some ranging as high as 48 percent of the agency’s total budget over the last 4-6 years — have created public safety issues in some areas.
“It’s a balance of what’s right for Oklahoma and what is right for our people,” Ownbey said. “It’s easy to talk about cuts to agencies and not really talk about the impact it has. I think that is the issue we have here.”
Ownbey said cuts to agencies that provide elder and children services — which will happen unless revenues are included in the upcoming budget — would have a compounding effect by costing the state additional matching funds from the federal level while causing further degradation of the states’ already crumbling infrastructure.
“We had our budget meeting at the Norman Juvenile Authority facility. It is truly an embarrassment to put our girls there to rehabilitate in that kind of facility.” Ownbey said. “You have to pay for some of the things that you have to have, that’s just the way it is.”
Ownbey once again addressed the gross production tax on horizontal drilling, proposing a change to the time frame on the current 5 percent tax cut on well production from the current 36 months down to 12 months.
“It’s being blocked by some members, and lets be clear, it isn’t the end all be all,” Ownbey said. “This change would be worth about $50 million by FY20.”
Ownbey said the change would put Oklahoma closer to the median for other oil producing states, where as Oklahoma’s rate currently sits at about half of what other energy producing states collect.
“Energy is 20 percent of our economy, so the next thing we do is look at what other states are doing,” Ownbey said. “While we are taking in less tax dollars than every before, we are also pumping more oil today than we ever have before. People say, if we change the taxes then the business will go elsewhere. That is a chance you take, but where are they going to go to get away from the tax structure?”
Ownbey said the solution to the ongoing budget issues will require a number of revenues sources, some easier than others.
“The battle is continuing. It’s a unique situation for us, I’m not sure I’ve seen that kind of division in the House and the Senate,” Ownbey said. “Politics on both sides plays such a large role in this. For the average person not working in the legislature, its frustrating, when so many times, just common sense solutions, if you pulled the politics out would work the best.”
Sen. Frank Simpson, (R-Springer) said a general lack of cooperation between the parties and even individual caucuses has exacerbated the situation.
Simpson used the example his former commanding officer.
“He would always say, ‘If you agree with everything I say then we don’t need the both of us here,’” Simpson said. “He also said that ‘if you come to me with a problem without a possible solution then you are part of the problem.’”
Legislators are currently at odds on what, and whom to tax in order to fill in the ongoing budget gaps caused by years of tax cuts both to the top tax brackets as well as with the gross domestic tax on horizontal drilling.
“We are not going to be able to cut our way out of this problem,” Simpson said. “Unless we start letting convicted felonies out of prisons or closing nursing homes.”
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has already halted several road projects in anticipation of catastrophic cuts, while legislators have gone through the exercises to see exactly what those cuts would look like to other agencies.
“We’ve run out of the one-time funds, we don’t have any more band-aids to use this year,” Simpson said. “We are at a point where we will have to jeopardize core functions of government if we don’t come up with something.”
Despite the desperate need, Ownbey, Simpson and Rep. Tommy Hardin were pessimistic that a workable solution would be produced during the current session.