- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A major expansion of tribal gambling in Oklahoma - to include roulette and dice games - that House Democrats wanted in exchange for votes on a cigarette tax apparently derailed budget negotiations on Monday in the Legislature.

House Democrats and Senate Republicans held dueling press conferences to blame each other for stalling an agreement on a broad budget plan to help close an $878 million budget gap.

Republicans hold super majorities in both legislative chambers, but not enough in the 101-member House to pass a tax increase, which requires a three-fourths vote, without help from some of the chamber’s 26 Democrats.

House Democratic leader Rep. Scott Inman has withheld support for a cigarette tax hike in an effort to bolster Democrats’ role in budget negotiations.

“We’ve said all along that a cigarette tax is just a Band-Aid on a bullet hole,” said Inman, D-Oklahoma City. “It will not solve the state’s budget problems. You’ve got to have additional revenue.”

Inman said he reached a deal with House Republican leaders late Sunday night that would have generated more than $400 million. It included a cigarette tax increase, a cap on itemized income tax deductions, the restoration of the earned income tax credit that was eliminated last year, the elimination of about $50 million in oil and gas production incentives and the tribal gaming expansion.

But Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz said Senate Republicans won’t agree to expand tribal gambling. Schulz said the gaming expansion also would have authorized sports betting if a current federal ban were lifted by the U.S. Congress.

“I think we have too much gambling going on in this state. I think it’s too accessible,” said Schulz, R-Altus. “I think we have people who are spending milk and bread money in a casino rather than taking care of their kids.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat criticized Inman for unveiling his plan for a tribal gaming expansion with just three weeks remaining in the legislative session.

“We’re sitting here on May 8, and this is the first we’ve heard of this deal,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Leader Inman has continued to move the goal posts. We stand ready to pass the revenue to fill the hole, and we don’t need some gimmick of a last-minute gaming or gambling to get us there.”

Meanwhile, House and Senate budget committees on Monday approved several revenue measures, including a bill to increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack that would generate more than $200 million annually in dedicated funding for health care.


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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