The Norman Transcript

Opinion

June 17, 2014

Will state income tax be latest victim?

NORMAN — Jerry Fent has taken aim on the Legislature’s income tax cut. For years, Fent, an Oklahoma City attorney, has been successfully holding legislators to the letter of the law when it comes to the state Constitution.

Fent won the landmark state cases that should have ended the unconstitutional practices of combining unrelated ideas into a single bill — logrolling. In the process, Fent prevented the state from amassing hundreds of millions in public debt for unconstitutional bond issues.

Despite Fent’s victories, the Legislature persisted in its logrolling ways as recently as last year, when Fent went to court, killing a multifaceted workers’ compensation reform law and a combination tax cut and state Capitol repair effort.

The Legislature came back in special session last summer, split the workers’ comp law into pieces and repassed it.

This year, lawmakers took up the tax cut effort again with Senate Bill 1246. Without the state Capitol repair rider, lawmakers passed a measure to cut the top income tax rate gradually from 5.25 percent to 4.85 percent. But Fent has taken aim on the plan again.

In his latest suit, Fent says that under the provision passed by voters in 1992 as State Question 640, the Constitution requires that any revenue bills considered by the Legislature have to have at least three-fourths approval of the House and Senate, and the tax cut didn’t get that margin. The Constitution also requires that such bills originate in the House of Representatives.

Of course, everyone assumed that when State Question 640 passed it only applied to tax increases, but Fent pointed out that the Constitution doesn’t say anything about increases. It just says revenue bills.

We know enough about the nature of litigation not to make a prediction about who will win in the case.

Fent also wrote a letter this week urging Gov. Mary Fallin to reject a tax incentive for oil and gas production. Fent claimed that measure also is unconstitutional.

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