The Republican governor candidates competing for the ‘no-tax’ vote (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Gary Richardson

Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson announced last week that he will file a lawsuit challenging three of the measures that produced enough revenue during the legislative session to get the Legislature adjourned by the mandated last Friday in May. I think it was a smart political move by Richardson, who is attempting to consolidate the formidable anti-tax wing of Republican primary voters behind his candidacy. In his announcement for governor last February, soon after the Legislature went into session, Richardson said, “The current budget crisis in Oklahoma proves to me that Oklahoma isn’t a poor state but a state run poorly. It’s important that the people of Oklahoma have a Governor who will make the right decisions to get our state out of this budget crisis without raising taxes.”

Richardson’s strongest competition for the no-tax voters is probably Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, who resigned from Governor Fallin’s cabinet when she announced her plan for a broad-based sales tax on services. Lamb’s protest cabinet resignation was seen by many as an empty gesture meant to separate himself from the governor whom he has served for the past seven years. Fallin’s tax plan had little chance from the beginning, regardless of Lamb’s cabinet resignation. Richardson, in contrast, is taking tangible action to overturn taxes that he sees as unconstitutionally raised by the legislature.

I don’t agree with Richardson’s premise that the budget crisis can or should be fixed without raising taxes, but a lot of people who will be voting in the Republican primary for governor do. If his lawsuit is successful, even partially, at challenging some of these taxes, Richardson will be able to point to a genuine public policy accomplishment before even having been elected to office. He will capture the budget issue — from the no-tax point of view — and put his candidacy on the map. Unless the issue gets resolved in the next session, which seems unlikely, the budget, alongside all the issues that go with it, will be the number one issue in the governor’s race.

Richardson’s move also gives him the advantage of standing on principle. Richardson is challenging a new 1.5 percent sales tax on the purchase of vehicles, a new $30 “fee” on hybrid vehicles, and the continued uniformity of the state income tax standard deduction with the federal income tax standard deduction. Even many people who are not anti-tax believe the Legislature and governor violated the constitutional provisions adopted by the people with SQ 640 in the way these bills were passed. If the court rules that they did so, which seems likely, it will have been important for someone to stand up for the rule of law.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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