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March 30, 2014

Negotiations to begin on state budget, policy

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s governor and Republican legislative leaders agree in principle on cutting taxes, a multi-million dollar overhaul of the Capitol and revamping the pension system for state workers, but each side has different ideas on the specifics.

As the Oklahoma Legislature reaches its halfway point, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and new House Speaker Jeff Hickman are expected to begin working toward a compromise on some of those big-ticket items, and work with the governor’s office on building a budget with a $188 million hole in it.

“We’re just starting those discussions,” said Hickman, R-Fairview, who was elected speaker just after the start of the 2014 session when former Speaker T.W. Shannon stepped down to focus on his U.S. Senate race.

Gov. Mary Fallin is continuing to call for a cut in the state’s income tax, and the House and Senate each have passed separate plans. The Senate bill would drop the rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent once overall general revenue collections return to 2013 levels. A second cut to 4.85 percent would occur if additional revenue triggers were met.

The House bill would also cut the rate to 5 percent, but only if income tax revenues first grow by enough to offset the lost revenue — a more difficult threshold to meet. The House also passed a bill to cut the state’s corporate income tax rate.

“We’re moving in the same direction,” Hickman said. “(Both bills) have triggers and they’re paid for in future years when there’s growth. It’s not like we’re worlds apart on tax cuts.”

Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he expects top-level negotiations between his Senate leadership team and House leaders to begin in the next couple of weeks.

Both sides also will have to compromise on $6.9 billion in available revenue for state agencies and programs, which is about $188 million less than lawmakers had to appropriate last year.

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