House Report

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By State Representative Todd Russ

As I send this, the Legislature is convening for special session. There are several plans on the table to help fill the $215 million budget hole left by the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling in August that overturned the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017.

The act would have tacked $1.50 onto a pack of cigarettes with the money going to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Human Services.

Without these funds, these three healthcare agencies will have to reshuffle their budgets, and important services are at risk.

The speaker of the House has announced a plan to bring another vote on the cigarette tax to the floor.

A significant detail to note is that the majority Republican caucus does not have enough members to pass a tax increase without votes from the minority Democrats.

If this fails to receive the two-thirds vote needed to pass again, the speaker plans to put it to a simple majority vote of the people by sending it to a future state ballot.

So far, House Democrats have been unwilling to vote for a cigarette tax increase, instead wanting to tie this vote to other issues such as increasing the income tax rate or the gross production tax on oil and gas.

I personally think there might be some wriggle room on the gross production tax rate but most Oklahomans say they would support a cigarette tax increase but not the others. Instead, they want the Legislature to cut spending.

I and a group of conservative lawmakers have ideas on how this might be accomplished. We had a vote last year, for instance, that would have cut agency swag – the amount of money agencies pay for promotional materials, such as coffee cups, lapel pins, buttons, notepads, pens, things of that nature. This bill could have saved the state up to $28.5 million.

If we could affect true criminal justice reform, such as imposing more uniform sentencing, for instance, we could save the state millions.

These and other commonsense reforms would be more than enough money to go towards teacher pay raises and other legitimate needs.

But even in our education system there’s still data and details that are not being shared with the public in a meaningful manner for efficiencies.

Good legislation will continue to be pursued. In the meantime, other plans announced by the speaker to address the immediate need include spending available cash and tapping Rainy Day Funds. These are plans the governor so far has said she will not support.

I myself would rather see targeted cuts to agencies while we support services such as, health care, transportation, true classroom spending and public safety.

I was encouraged this week to see the speaker’s announcement of his appointees to the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, created during the recent legislative session to give lawmakers more oversight of state agencies and their budgets. This task force is a step back toward responsible budgeting.

As I’ve said many times, we have to know where our money is being spent in order to ensure accountability to the Oklahoma taxpayer.

State government has gotten so big that it is near impossible to find the deep inner workings of various agencies in the time we are allowed to review and investigate during session.

As always, I will keep you updated on our progress in the Legislature during this very tough time with the State’s budget.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to represent you at the Capitol. God bless you and God bless Oklahoma!

State Representative Todd Russ can be contacted by e-mail at or by phone at

(405) 557-7312.