Deals to resolve differences on overhauling the Oklahoma workers' compensation system and reducing the state's top personal income tax rate are expected to be hammered out by next week, leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature said Thursday.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he anticipates a tough fight over the workers' compensation bill, Senate Bill 1062, when it comes up next week on the floor of the House of Representatives. The deadline for the House to act on most Senate measures and for the Senate to act on most House measures is April 25.
“We are currently discussing parameters for how long that debate will take,” Inman said. “I've visited with (House) Republican leaders who are in charge of that bill … and they say there may be 10, 15, 20, 25 amendments potentially that could be lodged.”
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, provided no details on the workers' compensation or personal income tax proposals, saying discussions are ongoing between them and the governor's office.
“We're close,” Bingman said.
Talks also involve Shannon's bill that would allow the state to sell unneeded property and underused buildings. Proceeds would pay for maintenance of other state buildings, including repairs to the Capitol. The governor is asking lawmakers to appropriate $8 million to repair the flaking exterior of the nearly 100-year-old building and $2 million for a study on how to proceed with other repairs.
Both said talks are leaning toward postponing the personal income tax cut effective date from Jan. 1 until Jan. 1, 2015; Shannon said he's on board if the cut is deeper than the 4.95 percent cut called for in the latest Senate version, contained in House Bill 2023.
Inman said it's fiscally irresponsible to approve a tax cut that won't take effect until 2015 when it's unknown what the status of the state's economy will be.
Fallin and Shannon proposed a reduction of the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, effective Jan. 1. Senate Republicans rewrote the proposal, contained in House Bill 2032; it now calls for reducing the top personal income tax rate to 4.95 percent, taking effect in 2015. It also ends the practice of five popular economic tax credits being sold to others who need to reduce their income tax liability to the state.
Shannon said once an agreement is reached on the income tax cut, work can start in earnest on crafting the legislatively appropriated budget for the 2014 fiscal year. Lawmakers must finish their work by the last Friday in May.
SB 1062, which would change workers' compensation from a judicial system to an administrative one, was scratched Thursday from the agenda of the House Calendar Committee, which decides whether eligible bills will be heard on the House floor.
“We're creating a brand new system and so we held back on releasing our amendments just because we want to make sure we work through all of the necessary kinks,” Shannon said.
House Republican members met for about 90 minutes Thursday after adjourning for the week in a closed caucus meeting to discuss proposed changes to the bill.
Shannon said SB 1062 should be on the House Calendar Committee's agenda Monday; he expects the House will take up the measure Wednesday.
Inman said passage of SB 1062 isn't guaranteed because some lawmakers are concerned about an opt-out provision. Legislators last year failed to advance a proposal that would have allowed certain large businesses to opt out of the workers' compensation system as long as they provided equivalent benefits to injured workers; it fell nine votes short of the required 51 votes for passage.
Shannon said some members of his caucus “aren't really crazy about it,” but the opt-out provision will remain in the bill.