Agreements involving key issues sought by Gov. Mary Fallin and the two Republican legislative leaders nearly fell apart earlier this month with the defeat of a separate bill to reduce Oklahoma's top personal income tax rate, The Oklahoman has learned.
But determination by the Republican governor to get a tax reduction and by the Senate president pro tem to change how workers injured on the job are treated, along with the House speaker's concern that GOP House members would not support a bond issue to pay for state Capitol repairs kept talks going.
They culminated in last week's agreement, a source close to the high-level discussions said.
The bond issue proposal was favored by Fallin and President Pro Tem Brian Bingman.
With those issues worked out and advancing, legislative leaders and the governor will focus primarily on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Legislative leaders said last week they could finish their work by May 24, or a week earlier than the scheduled end of this year's session.
The agreements, which are contained in three separate bills, appear headed for easy legislative passage. Fallin, who usually is guarded about signing measures, has indicated she would sign the measures.
Final legislative passage could occur this week for the three measures: House Bill 2032, which contains the cut in the personal income tax; Senate Bill 1062, the comprehensive workers' compensation measure; and HB 1910, House Speaker T.W. Shannon's long-term plan to deal with state property maintenance and improvements.
Fallin, Bingman and House Speaker T.W. Shannon announced the agreements Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 32-14 to pass HB 2032 and 42-3 to pass HB 1910 and the House of Representatives voted 74-24 to pass SB 1062.
Debate heated up
Senate and House Democratic leaders have spoken out against HB 2032, the income tax proposal, and SB 1062, the workers' compensation measure. But outnumbered 72-29 in the House and 36-12 in the Senate, there's little they can do to stop them.
The agreements indicate the three, working for the first time together, are able to compromise and to keep egos in check.
However, Shannon had to use a parliamentary procedure that would stall Bingman's workers' compensation proposal after Senate Republicans changed his bill that included Fallin's income tax proposal.
Bingman, R-Sapulpa, allowed the changes to occur after Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, became upset when his tax bill, which depended on reducing several business tax credits and personal deductions to cut the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.75 percent on Jan. 1, 2015, was killed April 1 by a House budget subcommittee.
Shannon, R-Lawton, and Fallin got irritated with Bingman, sources close to the talks said, because they had told him in advance that Mazzei's bill would be defeated and he had assured them that he would support Fallin's proposal, which called for reducing the income tax rate to 5 percent, effective Jan. 1, and no reductions of tax credits or deductions.
The sources agreed to talk with the condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
At the beginning of the session, Fallin still was uncertain of whether to change the workers' compensation system from a judicial to an administrative one. Meanwhile, Bingman and most of his Republican caucus remained aloof to cutting the personal income tax without reducing business tax credits along with some personal deductions to help pay for it.
Last year's session ended with a standoff in the final days between Senate Republicans not agreeing with House Republicans and Fallin on how to reduce the personal income tax rate.
Shannon became involved in the talks already aware that Bingman and Fallin supported a bond issue to pay for repairs to the nearly 100-year-old Capitol. For his part, Shannon wanted to come up with a pay-as-you-go plan for the Capitol and other state buildings.
Shannon authored a bill that included Fallin's income tax proposal and sided with Bingman on the workers' compensation plan. A month later, Fallin announced during a speech to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber that she supported an administrative system.
The Senate passed its workers' compensation measure in February, but Shannon slowed the bill's progress by assigning House Chief of Staff Rick Rose and GOP House members, Reps. Leslie Osborn, of Mustang, Fred Jordan, of Jenks, Jon Echols, of Oklahoma City, and Mark McCullough, of Bartlesville, to review the measure.
They met several times and came up with a number of changes in a 284-page amendment that was filed Monday night.
When Bingman allowed the changes to Shannon's income tax bill after the defeat of Mazzei's tax measure, Shannon told Bingman he would strike the title off the workers' compensation measure, which meant it would be headed for a conference committee even if it won House approval.
As part of last week's agreement, the title was restored, meaning if the Senate accepts the House amendment, it will proceed to Fallin's desk.
Fallin, who asked lawmakers the past two years to cut the personal income tax rate, insisted legislation that would reduce the rate be passed this year. Shannon said two weeks ago he would support delaying the implementation of the income tax and would agree to spread it over two years if it would be deeper than 5 percent.
Sources said Shannon was hoping to get the rate that would take effect in 2016 reduced to 4.75 percent if certain economic conditions were met, but Senate Republicans balked at going deeper than 4.85 percent without at least some assurances of some credits or deductions being reduced. Fallin, recalling last year's disappointment, agreed to the 4.85 rate.