OKLAHOMA CITY, Aug. 10, 2017 – “Another example of failed leadership” is how gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson described the fallout from a ruling today that rejects a key legislative budget bill.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court dealt another blow to an already dismal legislative session when it struck down a critical piece of the legislature’s ill-conceived budget plan. The court said a cigarette fee designed to provide funding to state health agencies is an unconstitutional tax.
“This entire budget enacted last year was just a ‘kick the can down the road’ measure to put off the problem until next year,” Edmondson said. “Even with the best-case scenario, we were still looking at starting the next legislative session about $500 million in the hole. That’s already a long climb and it just got steeper.”
Edmondson said he supports an increase in the tobacco tax, but it must be done correctly.
“Whether you call it a tax or a fee,” Edmondson said, “an increase is a good public policy decision to help reduce smoking rates, especially as a deterrent to youth smoking. As I see it, raising revenue is the secondary benefit after public health.”
A likely special session is looming, which will only cost the already cash-strapped state more funds it doesn’t have. The former attorney general said legislators and the governor must stop with the partisan gamesmanship and address Oklahoma’s fiscal crisis.
“This is an opportunity to correct the failures of the last legislative session,” Edmondson said. “Our elected representatives must stop mortgaging the state’s future for the benefit of lobbyists and special interests. They should also know that obstructionism, for its own sake, is not productive.”
Edmondson again called for legislators and the governor to start by restoring the gross production tax.
“The energy industry is a vital part of our state’s economy and history,” Edmondson said. “Bringing the GPT back to 7 percent won’t drive the drillers out of our state. Oil and gas companies drill wells where they find oil and gas, and they find both in Oklahoma. At 7 percent, the effective tax rate on oil and gas would remain among the lowest rates charged in the nation.”
Echoing a pledge he made early in his campaign, Edmondson said he will ask the people of Oklahoma to make their voices heard if the legislature fails to address the critical issues facing our state.
“As governor, I’ll take these priorities to a vote of the people if the legislature refuses to do what’s right,” Edmondson said. “We can fix this mess and the legislature should start right now.”
Edmondson, a Navy veteran, served as Oklahoma’s attorney general from 1995 to 2011. He is best known for taking on Big Tobacco, including a role on the negotiating team for the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that prohibited tobacco companies from marketing their products to children. Edmondson led the charge to establish the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, which constitutionally protected the tobacco settlement money and ensured that it can only be spent on public health. To date, the Tobacco Trust balance stands at more than $1 billion. He has made a career of standing up to big business, including battles against Wall Street fraud and corporate polluters. Learn more at www.drewforoklahoma.com.