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Vocal response to cigarette 'fee' ruling

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Lawmakers and the public had plenty to say Thursday after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a bill that put a $1.50 fee on every pack of cigarettes.

The fee would have raised $215 million for health agencies, but the court said it was unconstitutionally drafted as a tax.

Gov. Mary Fallin said she was disappointed with the decision, but that she believes a special session is inevitable.

State Rep. Scott Inman, the Democratic leader from Del City, came out swinging at  Fallin and Republican lawmakers. He said the Legislature should come back to the Capitol and raise the gross production tax on oil and gas wells to 7 percent.

Republican lawmaker Josh Cockroft, who sits on the appropriations committee, also issued a statement.

Advocacy groups urged lawmakers to act quickly.

"Oklahoma State Medical Association, on behalf of its more than 3,000 members, is obviously disappointed that the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the cigarette fee, a measure with such proven benefits for public health," President Kevin Taubman wrote in a news release. "We hope a special session of the legislature will allow us to work with legislative leaders to pass a new measure that will save lives."

The Oklahoma State School Board Association said a special session should also focus on education issues.

"Starting the school year amid budget uncertainty is bad for children and bad for schools," said Executive Director Shawn Hime. "Oklahoma desperately needs a budget with long-term revenue sources to ensure our schools have the resources needed to keep and hire the best educators and provide a high-quality education for every child."

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who left Fallin's cabinet this year over a disagreement on tax policy, said he wasn't surprised by the ruling.

"With the ruling, the Legislature must now focus first and foremost on identifying existing state funds to allocate to the healthcare-related programs that were scheduled to receive appropriations from the cigarette fee measure," Lamb wrote in a news release. "It is my belief this can be done without drastic cuts to agencies."

Lamb said government should operate more efficiently, and that the ruling gives lawmakers the opportunity to start that process.

Senate Democrats expected this result.

"We knew this tax was unconstitutional when it was passed by the legislature back in May," said state Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman.
"We made the same arguments that the Court has articulated in today’s opinion when Republican leadership at the Capitol was playing partisan political games and pushing this desperate revenue measure through during the last hours of the 2017 regular session."

Related Photos
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

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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 ›