Oklahoma Senate rebuffs Stitt, abruptly ends special legislative session
Lawmakers take no action on income tax cuts
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt talks about slowly eliminating the state's income tax during a press conference Tuesday at the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Photo by Kyle Phillips/For Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — Mere hours after lawmakers gaveled in Tuesday for a special legislative session on tax cuts and budget transparency, the Senate abruptly adjourned without addressing any of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s demands for income tax reductions.
Just hours before, the House’s top Republican, Speaker Charles McCall, had expressed optimism that legislative leaders could come to an agreement on tax cut legislation. The House can still take action in the special session, but without the Senate, the chamber can’t send legislation to Stitt’s desk.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said a majority of his GOP caucus decided to end the special session after Stitt refused to appear before a Senate panel to answer questions about his plan for ensuring tax cuts don’t adversely impact state finances and government services.
“We wanted to give the governor the benefit of the doubt that he would actually show up and defend his plan,” Treat said. “I’m very disappointed that he chose not to.”
Treat said he wanted Stitt to present to the Senate Appropriations Committee a long-term plan for how tax cuts could be sustainable and how the state would offset the decrease in revenue from reduced tax collections.
Although Treat has previously said he supports reducing personal income taxes, he criticized the governor’s special session call. Eliminating personal income taxes would do away with $4 billion in annual funding and force lawmakers to cut state services, Treat has said.
“To cut revenue is doable if you have a plan,” Treat said. “I haven’t seen a plan yet.”
The governor has been clear that he wants lawmakers to slow the growth of government and cut income taxes by 0.25%, said Stitt spokesperson Abegail Cave.
“Senate leadership is denying Oklahomans their right to keep their hard-earned money while continuing to increase the size of government every year,” she said in a statement.
Without consulting legislative leaders, Stitt called the Oklahoma Legislature into the special session and directed them to put Oklahoma on the path toward eliminating income taxes. In a similar fashion, Treat did not give Stitt or McCall a heads up of the Senate’s decision to end the special session just hours after it began.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, Stitt held a news conference with McCall, R-Atoka, and other prominent Republicans to urge lawmakers to send some of the state’s surplus revenue back to taxpayers.
The governor said he was being transparent with the public by detailing his request for a 0.25% income tax cut in the news conference at the state Capitol. Just three floors up, the Senate Appropriations Committee was waiting for him to arrive.
“This is being streamed all over the state right now,” Stitt said. “I couldn’t be more transparent with what I’m asking for and it is to slow the growth of government and put money back into peoples’ pockets.”
Noting the state surplus and record-high savings, Stitt pushed back on claims that tax cuts could result in cuts to government services.
A quarter-point income tax reduction would cost the state roughly $95 million next year and about $240 million once fully annualized, Stitt said.
At the news conference, McCall said he hoped the House and Senate could find “common ground” to quickly advance legislation to the governor’s desk.
As of press time, McCall’s office had not commented on the Senate’s decision to adjourn the special session. The House had planned to reconvene on Wednesday.
The state’s top income tax rate, which most Oklahomans pay, is 4.75%. Lawmakers approved a 0.25% income tax cut in 2021 that took effect in 2022.
Over the past five years, the Legislature has sent about $750 million in tax cuts to Stitt’s desk, including two bills the governor vetoed, Treat said.
Barring another special session, lawmakers could address tax reform in the regular, four-month legislative session that begins in February.
If the Legislature cut taxes in the special session, as opposed to waiting until next year, residents could see relief in the current tax year, said House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City.
“I think the citizens of the state of Oklahoma are tired of waiting,” he said.
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