Oklahoma lawmakers file suit against Board of Equalization
By Ken Childers
Leaders of the Oklahoma State Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives filed a petition with the Oklahoma Supreme Court Tuesday, asking the court to declare that SB 199 has taken effect and that the Board of Equalization must officially meet to certify a revenue failure.
The petition was filed byattorneys Glenn Coffee, Kara Rodriguez and Denise Lawson on behalf of Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC), House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka), Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) and House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston).
The lawsuit stems from a dispute between the Republican-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt over how to handle a revenue failure for the final months of Fiscal Year 2020. A revenue failure means actual state receipts have fallen below 95 percent of the budgeted estimate for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“Petitioners respectfully request this court issue a writ of mandamus, compelling the Board of Equalization to meet to fulfill its constitutional duty to determine a revenue failure, thereby allowing SB 199, which is now law, to take effect,” the lawsuit states.
On April 6, the legislature presented three appropriations bills, SB1053, SB617, and SB199 to Stitt to cover an announced budget shortfall of $416 million, appropriating $302 million through SB199 alone. Stitt signed SB 1053 and SB 617 into law on April 9, but the lawmakers filing the suit say Stitt declined to even consider SB 199, contending that since no board action had been taken, it was “null and void.”
The petitioners say the Board of Equalization, which Stitt chairs, scheduled a special meeting for April to determine a revenue failure had occurred – which was necessary to trigger SB 199’s effect – but Stitt abruptly cancelled the meeting when he learned that SB 199 included a provision specifying that funds from the Constitutional Reserve Fund totaling about $250,000 should not be directed to Stitt’s Digital Transformation Fund.
In the court filing, the lawmakers argue that they have “no other remedy” than a lawsuit to address the situation. The legislators also argue that Article 6, Section 11 of the Oklahoma Constitution specifies that SB 199 took effect even without Stitt’s signature owing to his decision not to veto it. The section notes:
If any bill or resolution shall not be returned by the governor within five days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Legislature shall, by their adjournment, prevent its return, in which case it shall not become a law without the approval of the governor.
“As SB 199 is now law, the Board of Equalization must meet to determine a revenue failure so that the conditions precedent to the law’s fulfillment may be triggered,” the lawmakers’ suit states. SB 199 requires a Board of Equalization-certified revenue failure to authorize transfers of funds intended to fill agency budgets.