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Historic tax debate: What you should know

What happened Tuesday was historic because it was rare

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is asked to consider hundreds of petitions each year and actually rules on a fraction of that number.

Justices usually don't hear oral arguments in open court, instead relying on written briefs and more informal hearings with judicial branch officers known as referees. On Tuesday, all nine members of the Supreme Court convened in its historical chambers at the state Capitol.

Hearing not just one, but three cases in oral arguments on the same day is extraordinarily rare.

Affected are cigarettes, auto sales and electric vehicle ownership

The Legislature levied a $1.50 fee on cigarettes that will be distributed to health agencies, with a small portion going to law enforcement. The fee will be paid by distributors.

Lawmakers also raised the automobile sales tax rate that consumers pay, put a fee on electric-drive and hybrid vehicle registration and capped the standard deduction that Oklahomans take on personal income.

Because the arguments are contained in three separate cases, the court doesn't have to rule one specific way. Some of the measures could be tossed and some kept in place.

The arguments were live-streamed for the first time...ever

With help from the state-funded television authority OETA, the court live-streamed all three hours of Tuesday morning's hearing.

In the 9 a.m. hour, during the first round of arguments, the stream reached a peak of more than 600 people online at once. The highest number of people who logged on at any one time was about 700, the court said.

Outside the court, things got political

As expected, gubernatorial candidates were at the Capitol on Tuesday to share their opinion. State Rep. Scott Inman, who led House Democrats in blocking most of the Republicans' revenue-raising agenda, spoke to reporters outside chambers before arguments began.

Democrats and Republicans couldn't reach an agreement before the Legislature adjourned in May, so GOP leadership fell back on the measures that are now awaiting the court's ruling.

Inman said he believes the measures are unconstitutional and will be overturned. If that happens, a special session of the Legislature is likely.

The Democratic candidate finds common ground with a Republican contender on that issue. Governor candidate Gary Richardson is one of petitioners who sued the state. Richardson's attorney argued in court that his client would be affected by the measures unless the court intervenes.

We don't know when to expect a ruling

The court can take as long as it wants to rule on a case, and could realistically spend months mulling over a final decision.

However, because the result could be a significant to the state's revenue collections and public health policy, the justices might make it a priority.

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Dale Denwalt

Dale Denwalt has closely followed state policy and politics since his first internship as an Oklahoma Capitol reporter in 2006. He graduated from Northeastern State University in his hometown of Tahlequah. Denwalt worked as a news reporter in... Read more ›