Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat speaks about the governor’s call for a special session at a news conference Sept. 13, 2023, at the state Capitol. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — The head of the Oklahoma Senate wants lawmakers to grill Gov. Kevin Stitt on what he hopes to gain from a special legislative session next month.
Calling the governor’s special session agenda “intensely vague,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, requested Stitt appear before a legislative panel to provide details on how he thinks the state can afford the tax cuts he proposed.
In a Wednesday news conference, Treat said one of Stitt’s policy ideas could reduce annual tax collections by $4 billion. Stitt suggested the Legislature pass a “trigger law” that exempts all Oklahoma residents from state income taxes should a court decide some Native American residents are exempt.
If such a law took effect, legislators would be forced to cut state services or raise other taxes to offset a steep drop in tax revenue, Treat said.
“To eliminate around $4 billion of income tax from our state budget, we need real answers on which schools (Stitt) is going to close, which public safety programs are we going to cancel,” Treat said. “Are the tax credits we just passed for school choice, are we going to have to rescind some of those? Four billion dollars is a huge part of our budget.”
Treat said he will request Stitt answer these questions and others before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Oct. 3, the same day as the special session.
Stitt spokesperson Abegail Cave pushed back on Treat’s comments but did not say if the governor will appear at the legislative hearing.
“The Governor’s call to the Legislature is anything but vague,” she said.
Earlier this week, Stitt called the special session and demanded fairness and transparency in the state’s tax system and budget process.
At issue is a case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in which Muscogee Nation citizen Alicia Stroble is asking to be exempted from state income taxes because she lives and works on her tribe’s reservation.
When Stitt called a special session on tax cuts and budget transparency, he also requested lawmakers pass a “trigger law” that eliminates state income taxes for all Oklahomans should Stroble win her case.
Like Stitt, Treat said he hopes the Supreme Court rules against Stroble.
But if the court, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling, comes to the conclusion that Native citizens living and working on their tribe’s reservation are exempt from income taxes, Treat estimated the annual financial impact to the state would be $200 million or less.
If that occured, the state and the tribes could likely come to an agreement through compacting, Treat said.
But the governor’s “trigger law” would be far more costly, Treat said.
The McGirt ruling, which has been hailed by the state’s tribes, found that much of eastern Oklahoma remains reservation land.
Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said Stitt’s hostility toward the tribes knows no bounds.
“His attempt to rework the entire tax code, simply to avoid working with the Tribes or following well-established and decades-old laws, is shameful,” Hill said in a statement.
In calling lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session, Stitt also directed the Legislature to put the state “on the path to zero income taxes” and implement budget transparency measures.
Treat said his chamber is implementing changes to make the state budget process more transparent, although he did not provide details. The Legislature should also take a cautious and methodical approach to cutting taxes, he said.
“We have to have real deep thought and real conversations about how we get to our shared goal of trying to lower the income tax, and eventually eliminate it, without jeopardizing critical services,” Treat said.
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