Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules Cigarette Tax Unconstitutional

Thursday, August 10th 2017, 7:02 pm

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a $1.50 cigarette fee imposed by the legislature last session is unconstitutional, leaving lawmakers with an estimated $215 million budget hole. That could lead to deep cuts in services.

When Rita Cooper-Roberts first came to the North Care Mental Health Center, she wanted to die.

"I was suffering from a dual diagnosis of alcoholism and mental illness and I was just kind of done with life and was ready to end it all."

Cooper Roberts says she learned to cope with her alcoholism and depression, and is so grateful she's the greeter there now.

The center is now facing major cuts because a cigarette fee enacted by lawmakers was deemed unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court. Justices determined lawmakers violated the constitution, passing the fee in the last five days of session. 

"We did what we had to do,” said Representative Bobby Cleveland (R) District 20, “Was it the best thing to do? Maybe not, but we did what we had to do."

About $70 million was expected to be raised by the fee that would have gone to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. They contract with agencies like North Care to take care of low income Oklahomans dealing with mental health and addiction issues.

"That means instead of foster care placements, nursing homes, jails, people having to go to hospitals, all kinds of out of home expensive institutional care, we provide the services so that they can stay home," said Randy Tate with North Care Center.

Gov. Mary Fallin released a statement saying: 

"These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution. My belief is we will have to come into special session to address this issue." 

"It would be terrible if we had to turn people away that are depressed living on the streets,” Cooper-Roberts said, “A lot of the homeless population, it's not that they're drug addicts. They have mental health issues, and they need help."