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State Supreme Court rejects tax-cut law as unconstitutional

State Supreme Court rejects tax-cut law as unconstitutional

The law signed by Gov. Fallin covers more than one issue, making it unconstitutional.

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OKLAHOMA CITY —- The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed out a highly touted income tax-cut bill signed into law this year by Gov. Mary Fallin.

House Bill 2032 would have reduced the top income tax-rate to 5 percent from 5.25 percent on Jan. 1, 2015. The measure also created a fund to repair the crumbling state Capitol.

The measure also set aside $60 million in fiscal year 2014 and another $60 million in fiscal year 2015 for Capitol repairs.

The measure was challenged by Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, who said it violated the single subject rule of the Oklahoma Constitution. The state's high court sided with Fent in a five-page opinion that was unanimous.

The Oklahoma Constitution requires that every act of the Legislature contain one subject.

The opinion said those voting on the law must be able to make a choice without being misled.

They also should not be forced to make an all or nothing choice between two unrelated provisions contained in one measure, the opinion said.

"I have been very happy with the decision," said Fent, who has brought successful challenges to other laws. "I was not against the subject matter. It was the way it was presented as a violation of the constitution."

Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre, prior to the measure's passage, predicted it would be challenged and tossed out.

"It is my hope this decision does not turn into a partisan issue," Ivester said. "Now is not the time to debate the role of the courts or to use this decision as a call for judicial reform.

"With the next legislative session just a few months way, we must work to find money to repair the Capitol. We can best respect the court's decision by committing ourselves to a process that results in good, constitutional policymaking and doing it right this time."

The measure is among a growing number found unconstitutional.

Earlier this year, Fallin called lawmakers into a special session after the state's high court found that a lawsuit reform measure was unconstitutional. The Legislature then passed the measures as separate bills, and Fallin signed them.

The income tax cut was passed last session after the GOP-controlled Legislature and Fallin, also a Republican, could not reach an agreement during the prior session.

"I am extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to unravel a plan that would have provided tax relief to Oklahoma families as well as a way of restoring our crumbling Capitol building," Fallin said. "I will work closely with the Legislature to develop a strategy to move forward."

House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, were the authors of the unconstitutional measure.

"Today's ruling was a huge blow to Oklahoma families who have been expecting tax relief, and I'm deeply disappointed the Supreme Court has once again ruled against the interests of those families," Shannon said. "The good news is help is on the way. I am prepared to act quickly with legislative leaders and the governor to restore what the Supreme Court has undone."

Said Bingman: "We are disappointed in the ruling and stand ready to act legislatively as needed in the upcoming session."

State officials are predicting a flat budget for fiscal year 2015. Lawmakers return in February to the Capitol.

Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465

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