Friday, May 26, 2017

Session ends today; votes on cigarette "fee", vehicle sales tax, state budget

As the Oklahoma Legislature prepares to adjourn sine die by 5:00pm, there is still unfinished business to vote on. The House will take up the $6.8B FY2018 budget, as well as the $257M cigarette tax "smoking cessation" fee.

According to Article 5, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution, passing measures that raise revenue is clearly unconstitutional, per passage of State Question 640 by Oklahoma voters in 1992. Legislative leadership thinks they can get around that ban by calling the cigarette tax (and other measures) a fee instead. That is simply wrong, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court will likely get a chance to weigh in on the matter.

Whether it's a tax or a fee, it has the same effect on whomever pays it: more money is taken from their wallet by the government. Whether it's a tax or a fee, it has the same effect on state government: more money is taken from citizens and placed in state coffers.

The State Senate will be taking up HB2433, which raises $123M by charging a 1.5% sales tax on the sale of vehicles. This measure passed the House 52-47 on Wednesday.

Oklahoma voters clearly spoke in 1992 that they don't want new revenue, be it taxes or fees, passed in the final week of the legislative session, or passed with less than 3/4ths of the Legislature voting in favor. Further, Oklahoma voters clearly spoke just six months ago by shooting down a $615M tax increase that would have been dedicated to education, which most voters consider to be the top state funding priority.

The Oklahoma Legislature should honor and uphold the letter and spirit of the people's will, and not increase taxes, or fees (as the late Labor Commissioner Mark Costello said, "A fee is nothing more than a tax by another name").


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