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Senate panel fast-tracks hospital tax over protest

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 15, 2013 at 5:39 pm •  Published: January 15, 2013

Republicans in particular fear challengers labeling them as having raised taxes, and national anti-government activist Grover Norquist, a GOP powerbroker, has publicly urged legislators to abandon the levy.

The uncomfortable political dynamic was on display Tuesday as Bethel fielded questions from colleagues on the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. The hearing was complete with a semantics debate over whether the plan is or is not a "revenue measure," Capitol-speak for a tax bill.

Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, said "the clear legislative intent is to raise revenue."

Besides the political implication, Henson and Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, noted that tax and fee bills must originate in the House of Representatives. Henson and Lucas voted against Bethel's measure.

Bethel answered Lucas: "It's an authority bill" that merely empowers the state health board to decide the issue. "They may decide a fee is not appropriate," he added.

Yet earlier in his pitch, Bethel said, "This is a $689 million proposition," the estimated total of the hospital tax and the resulting federal bounty.

The committee also adopted an amendment clarifying that the Assembly, not the board would appropriate any money that might be generated under the new model.

Hospital industry leaders initially proposed extending their current arrangement, with a few changes.

The industry now backs Deal's proposal.