A bill that would help clear the way for the City of Lawton to potentially charge civilians city sales tax on purchases of food, materials and motel room stays on the Fort Sill military post was narrowly approved Wednesday by the state House of Representatives.
The bill passed 51- 42, receiving the exact number of yes votes needed for approval. It will now go to the governor.
Spirited debate on the House floor focused on whether it would be a tax on current and retired military personnel and their families.
House author Mike Jackson, R-Enid, said it would not be. Active and retired military personnel and their families all have sales tax exemptions, Jackson said.
Examples of people who might have to pay the tax include civilians who purchase food at a Fort Sill Burger King or private construction contractors who buy construction materials or appliances on the post to build military housing, Jackson said.
However, before any of that could happen, the Lawton City Council would have to pass an ordinance and the council would have to obtain prior approval from the Department of Defense, Jackson said.
State Reps. Mike Reynolds and John Bennett argued against the bill, contending costs of increased taxation would get passed on to military personnel and their families.
“They’re taxing soldiers and their families — the people they claim to support,” argued Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. “It’s going to take money out of their pocket and transfer it to a city council that has squandered money.”
Bennett, R-Sallisaw, dismissed claims that the tax revenues would improve the quality of life for military families, calling the claim “a bunch of crap.”
“That’s a big slap in the face,” Bennett said of the proposed tax change.
Several lawmakers expressed concerns that efforts would be made later to apply the proposed tax change to other Oklahoma military installations.