Supreme Court weighs arguments against tax hike

The major tax hike on oil and gas production, fuel and cigarettes was the focus of legal arguments Monday before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Justices heard arguments against challenges to State Question 799, the question pushed by Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite, a group that contends the state didn’t need to raise taxes to fund the statewide teacher pay raise.  It has until mid-July to obtain an estimated 42,000 signatures for a vote of the people to reject the funding methods.

SQ 799 wants voters to repeal House Bill 1010xx which raised gross production taxes and others to fund the teacher pay raise averaging $6,100.

But the Professional Oklahoma Educators and the Oklahoma Education Association contend the petition drive and SQ 799 are unconstitutional.  Their challenges also contend Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite failed to provide the exact copy of the bill. Even  Chief Justice Douglas L. Combs agreed during questions and debate.

“To me, it is at best sloppy,” said Chief Justice Douglas L. Combs. “At worst, it is misleading.”

“The referendum is about as flawed as it could be,” said Kent D. Meyers, one of the attorneys for the petitioners. “It is a genuine mess.”

But attorney Barrett Bowers, representing Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite said while there are some errors, the effort still complies with the law.  And in questions from the justices, he said if voters approve the move to repeal House bill 1010xx, it would not affect the teacher pay raises.

Instead Bowers maintains current state revenue is more than enough to finance the pay raise. He said teachers will still get their pay hike because other funding sources can be used without raising taxes like the legislature did.

Attorney Blake Sonne, representing the Professional Oklahoma Educators took issue with Bowers’ explanation, saying attorneys have told school districts that raises will not happen if voters repeal HB 1010xx

Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite has been led in part by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn but its spokespersons have been Brooke McGowan and Ronda Vuillemont-Smith.

Their group has until July 18 to obtain more than 41,000 signatures if the repeal proposal is to make it on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The court heard arguments and now is weighing the issues in the case.

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