An Oklahoma City attorney who has successfully sued the state before is asking the state Supreme Court to throw out an income tax reduction law on the basis that it violates the state Constitution.
Jerry Fent says in the lawsuit filed Thursday that bills affecting state revenue need to originate in the House, and this bill started in the Senate. He also says such bills require a three-fourths vote in the Oklahoma House and Senate, and the approval of this bill did not reach that threshold.
Gov. Mary Fallin, who is named as defendant in the lawsuit, had no comment. A hearing is scheduled for June 24 before a referee who will recommend whether the state’s highest court should take up the case.
On April 28, Fallin signed into law Senate Bill 1246, calling for a gradual reduction in the state’s top personal income tax rate from 5.25 to 4.85 percent. The cut is to begin to take effect for the 2016 tax year if general revenue meets benchmarks set forth in the legislation.
The bill passed the Senate, 32-10, and the House, 54-40.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, expressed confidence the court would uphold the law.
“We disagree with Mr. Fent’s assessment and are hopeful the courts will as well,” Bingman said. “When the people of Oklahoma added this provision to our state’s constitution in 1992, it was clear that it was meant to protect Oklahomans from tax hikes, not tax cuts. We believe the courts will agree that this lawsuit represents a manipulation of the intent of this constitutional provision and will be thrown out, allowing Oklahomans to see a reduction in their taxes as promised.”
Fent says the constitutional provisions he cites merely refer to measures involving revenue, without regard to whether revenues are increased or decreased.
“In the Constitution there is no adverb or adjective saying the revenue bill is reducing or increasing, so without an adverb or adjective describing the revenue bill I think it applies to whether you are increasing the rate or decreasing the rate,” he said.
He also said he has no opinion on the merits of the tax-cutting law, but feels strongly it does not stand up to constitutional requirements.
A previous attempt at an incremental cut of state income taxes was tossed out by the state Supreme Court late last year. Acting on a lawsuit filed by Fent, the court found that law, which also included provisions creating a fund for Capitol repairs, violated a constitutional prohibition against including more than one subject in a single bill.