By The Associated Press Modified: April 16, 2008 at 9:03 pm •  Published: April 16, 2008
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OKLAHOMA CITY - The owners of the Seattle SuperSonics mounted a full-court press on Oklahoma lawmakers Wednesday to convince them to pass a tax incentive package that supporters say will help lure the NBA team to Oklahoma City.

Lobbyists schmoozed lawmakers at the state Capitol and some received telephone calls and e-mails from Sonics owner Clay Bennett and other representatives of the ownership team a day before the state House is scheduled to consider final passage of legislation that will give the team a rebate on a portion of payroll taxes it will pay if it relocates.

"I know what they're wanting," said Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, who said he planned to return phone calls from Bennett and Tom Price Jr., senior vice president of corporate development for Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, owned by Sonics ownership partner Aubrey McClendon.

"I want the Sonics here. I'm just not favorable to this sweetheart deal," Wesselhoft said. "We've been blackmailed from the beginning on this."

Wesselhoft voted against the measure when the House voted 66-32 on Monday to send the bill to the Senate. The Senate passed the bill 27-21 on Tuesday after stripping it of House amendments and sent it back to the House.

Rep. Charlie Joyner, R-Midwest City, who also voted against the bill, said he received an e-mail from Bennett that said the team might not come to Oklahoma City unless the House passes the tax incentive.

"I just don't think this thing has been handled right. That's kind of holding legislators hostage," Joyner said.

"I'm not anti-NBA, but this is not right."

A spokesman for the Sonics, Dan Mahoney, declined comment on the lobbying effort.

Bennett has filed a relocation request with the NBA and a subcommittee of three NBA owners plans to recommend approval when all 30 owners vote on the SuperSonics' request on Friday.

State lawmakers are considering the tax package six weeks after Oklahoma City voters approved a sales tax extension to fund $121.6 million in improvements to a downtown arena and build a practice facility in hopes of luring the Sonics.

The state legislation expands Oklahoma's Quality Jobs Program to include the NBA. It would permit the Sonics to receive a rebate of some of the payroll taxes paid by the team and places a reimbursement cap on the incentives not to exceed the top income tax rate in Oklahoma, currently 5.

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