“The purpose and intent of State Question 640 is now eviscerated…” So declared Oklahoma Chief Justice Douglas Combs in a dissent to last month’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding a new state law that partially removed a tax exemption on motor vehicle sales. For former House Speaker Steve Lewis, the Court’s ruling is “no less sweeping than the original passage of SQ 640 in 1992.”
Yet this ruling came just weeks after the Court unanimously struck down a law establishing a $1.50-per-package smoking cessation fee as a violation of State Question 640. In both cases, the Legislature had passed tax-related bills without heed to the constitutional requirement, set by passage of State Question 640, that revenue bills be approved by three-quarters votes in the Legislature or by a vote of the people.
Is there a contradiction between the Court’s rulings in the two cases? And has State Question 640 now been eviscerated? I contend that the answer to both questions is no. The two rulings — both authored by Justice Patrick Wyrick, the Court’s newest member and the sole appointee of Governor Fallin — together strike the balance that increases in tax rates are subject to the supermajority requirements of SQ 640 while measures that remove a tax exemption are not.
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