Oklahoma Supreme Court Upholds Vehicle Sales Tax Bill

Thursday, August 31st 2017, 12:29 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

The State Supreme Court has ruled a controversial revenue raising measure is constitutional. 

Republican lawmakers repealed an 82-year-old exemption to the tax on vehicle sales. Because legislators did it in the last five days of session, and it’s against the law for them to pass new taxes in that time frame, the bill was contested.

In a 5-4 split decision, justices ruled the bill is constitutional because it is not a new tax, but rather a change to an existing tax. Dissenting justices believe it is a new tax because, "There is nothing in the bill to give even a purported purpose or object other than to reach into the people's pockets to take more money to fund state government."

"That's what the constitution says and I think the court got it wrong in this case," said House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D).

This is the decision Gov. Mary Fallin and the legislature have been waiting for. It gives lawmakers an idea of how big the budget shortfall is and where they'll have to make cuts. 

"Yes, I will have a special session," Gov. Fallin said, promising to bring lawmakers back to the table before the end of September.

This month, the Supreme Court also ruled a $1.50 fee on cigarettes was unconstitutional because it was passed too late in the session. That puts the budget about $500 million in the hole; $215 million from local fees on tobacco and the remaining $285 million in matching federal money.

Legislative leaders are meeting behind closed doors, trying to reach an agreement on revenue raising measures and cuts before a special session is called. 

"We've been meeting with republican and democratic leaders talking about lots of ideas,” Fallin said. “Everything's kind of on the table."

Despite the meetings, there is still the same type of partisan bickering that got us here in the first place. 

Gov. Fallin blames the contested revenue raisers on democrats refusing to compromise on the gross production tax, which is the tax on oil and natural gas production. 

"That's why we got in the mess we're in now in this legislative session is because we had to pass things with 51 votes per se because the democrats locked up on issues," Gov. Fallin said.

Inman said, "The upside is we're not going to have to find another $100 million. The downside is the reason we don't have to find it is because the republican majority found it in the back pockets of Oklahoma voters."

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on a fee for electric and hybrid cars, but that would only bring in a few million dollars.