2-2-04 - Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry opened the first day of the legislative session by endorsing an increased state cigarette tax to fund health care. He says the 52 cent cigarette tax would produce $130 million annually to fund healthcare programs and develop anti-smoking campaigns. Henry hopes that revenues from the proposed cigarette fee would aid over 200,000 Oklahomans in health insurance and discourage underage smoking in Oklahoma. The Governor also proposed that a portion of revenues from a cigarette fee increase go toward funding for the construction of a world-class cancer research center for the state. Henry proposed a $5.5 billion dollar budget that includes allowing horseracing tracks to offer the same kind of electronic gaming devices that Indian casinos have. His budget also includes a capital gains tax cut and increasing
the amount of retirees' income that's exempt from income taxes. Outside the capitol building, hundreds of state workers were demanding a pay raise. State workers last received pay raises in October 2000 and want a seven percent salary increase. The average pay for state workers is just under $30,000 a year, ranking the state 45th in the nation. A seven percent increase would cost about $70 million and raise average salaries to just more than $32,000 a year.