Ok­la­homa jus­tices call fees ac­cept­able

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

OK­LA­HOMA CITY — Sev­eral Ok­la­homa Supreme Court jus­tices sug­gested Tues­day that the Leg­is­la­ture’s ap­proval of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in new rev­enue-rais­ing mea­sures ear­lier this year does pass con­sti­tu­tional muster.

Auto deal­ers, cig­a­rette man­u­fac­tur­ers and other in­ter­ests mounted a court chal­lenge to the in­creases. Their at­tor­neys told the state’s high­est court dur­ing oral ar­gu­ments that the new fees are ac­tu­ally un­con­sti­tu­tional “taxes” that vi­o­late a state con­sti­tu­tional pro­hi­bi­tion against pass­ing rev­enue-rais­ing mea­sures in the fi­nal five days of a leg­isla­tive ses­sion and without a su­per­ma­jor­ity of law­mak­ers.

The mea­sures in­clude leg­is­la­tion to re­move a 1.25 per­cent­age point ex­emp­tion on auto sales and cre­ate a new $1.50 fee on a pack of cig­a­rettes to help close an $878 mil­lion hole in the bud­get for the fis­cal year that be­gan July 1 and avoid more cuts to state agen­cies and ser­vices.

“This bill was passed not fig­u­ra­tively — but lit­er­ally — in the 11th hour,” said at­tor­ney Clyde Much­more of the Ok­la­homa Au­to­mo­bile Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. Lift­ing the auto sales ex­emp­tion will raise an es­ti­mated $125 mil­lion.

“It has the ef­fect of rais­ing rev­enue,” Much­more said.

But some mem­bers of the state’s high­est court said the mea­sure sim­ply elim­i­nated a tax ex­emp­tion put in place by law­mak­ers in 1937 and is not a new tax.

“The tax was al­ready in place and the ex­emp­tion was in place,” said Jus­tice Noma Gurich.

“I see an ex­emp­tion as an ex­tremely dif­fer­ent crea­ture,” said Jus­tice John Reif.

Jus­tices did not in­di­cate when they will hand down a rul­ing.

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