Oklahoma justices call fees acceptable
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.