Consumer groups call for compromise on state budget

INTEGRIS Health President Bruce Lawrence speaks at a press conference where representatives from consumer groups called for compromise on the state budget. (KOKH/Kyle Hoelting)

Representatives from consumer groups met at the Oklahoma Capitol to call for action on the state budget.

Time is ticking for state lawmakers to pass a budget and avoid a special session. Governor Mary Fallin said she would veto any budget that does not contain recurring revenue generating measures. On Friday, members of the oil and natural gas industry, the healthcare industry and transportation industry called for swift action and compromise on the budget.

Pat McFerron, with CMA Strategies, said he believed lawmakers were close to a workable deal.

"We cannot afford draconian cuts to the budget," McFerron said.

The group agreed on three key components to filling the state's massive budget hole: raising the cigarette tax to $1.50 per pack, a 6 cent per gallon fuel tax and raising the gross production tax on new oil and natural gas wells to three percent.

"They all believe that this is not a perfect deal," McFerron said.

Chad Warmington, President of the Okahoma Oil & Gas Association, said his industry is back at the table and happy to do so.

"We are the largest taxpayer in the state. We are happy to do our part. We have already offered up $46 million in incentives and a 50 percent increase in the GPT," Warmington said.

Oklahoma Democrats have previously stated they would not support any rise in the GPT under five percent.

INTEGRIS Health President Bruce Lawrence told the media that without a budget deal healthcare in the state could be devastated.

"The cigarette tax raises revenues and reduces smoking. We believe it is time for a compromise and time to make a deal," Lawrence said.

CEO of the Institute for Children Advocacy Joe Dorman applauded the oil and gas industry for coming to the negotiation table.

"What we do in the next few hours and days will answer the questions 'Can we fund Oklahoma schools that are open five days a week? Can we support a healthcare system capable of delivering babies?'" Dorman said. "Today in Oklahoma we have a chance to be different than Washington D.C."

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