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Okla. gov, speaker differ on state budget ideas

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SEAN MURPHY | January 16, 2014 07:10 PM EST | AP

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Mary Fallin and House Speaker T.W. Shannon differ on how to tackle several major budget issues, including the use of bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements and a tax incentive for horizontal oil and gas drilling, the governor's chief budget negotiator said Thursday.

Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger said during a summit on the state budget that Fallin prefers a bond issue to pay for infrastructure improvements instead of the "pay-as-you-go" approach supported by Shannon and some House conservatives. The summit was hosted by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based think-tank that supports additional funding for state programs.

Fallin last year signed a signature proposal by Shannon to develop a long-term plan to address improvements to some of the state's dilapidated facilities in part through the sale of state property, but Doerflinger said the governor has concerns about that approach given some of the state's more pressing needs.

"Sometimes it's OK to say maybe that wasn't the wisest move," Doerflinger said. "When we look at the pay-as-you-go model, that causes us to use current revenues on things that could otherwise be used on program areas."

Doerflinger said Fallin also doesn't support Shannon's proposal to make permanent a 6 percent reduction in the gross production tax for horizontal oil and gas drilling. Put in place in the late 1990s when horizontal drilling was costly and experimental, the incentive that reduces the tax rate from 7 percent to 1 percent is now costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year since most new wells are drilled this way.

Shannon has said he wants the incentive, which is set to expire in 2015, permanently placed at 1 percent.

"That's his prerogative to do so," Doerflinger said, "but I don't think at the end of the day anybody believes it's going to remain at 1 percent and be made permanent."

Shannon has consistently rejected the idea of a bond issue, and wants to push ahead with a cut to the state's income tax as well as making the horizontal drilling tax incentive permanent.

"While we share common ground on many issues, I cannot agree to raise taxes on Oklahoma's top industry or on Oklahoma families and businesses," Shannon said in a statement. "Oklahoma can address its financial needs and infrastructure issues in a conservative, fiscally responsible manner without taking on more debt or increasing the tax burden on our citizens."

Fallin has pushed for a reduction in the state's top personal income tax rate for the last two years, including a proposal she signed last year that would have reduced the rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent beginning next year. But the Supreme Court ruled last summer that bill violated the state constitution's single-subject rule because it also included a funding mechanism to pay for Capitol repairs.

Since then, Fallin has tempered her enthusiasm for a tax cut after state leaders learned they're projected to have about $170 million less to spend on state programs during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"As far as the income tax reduction question, I'm going to tell you the governor is always going to be a proponent of reducing the income tax," Doerflinger said. "What form that takes on, we haven't had those conversations yet for this upcoming year."

The 2014 legislative session begins Feb. 3.


Sean Murphy can be reached at