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Group formally headed by Coburn pushing tax plan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An organization once headed by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn is among those backing a plan to roll back state government through Colorado-style restrictions on legislative spending.

Oklahomans for Action was formed in Tulsa to lead an initiative petition drive after input from the Illinois-based Americans for Limited Government, according to state Sen. Randy Brogdon.

Brogdon said other national groups expressed interest in the petition drive, including the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Prosperity, which also is devoted to reducing the size and scope of government.

It was announced last week that Oklahomans for Action will circulate a petition asking voters to adopt a plan similar to Colorado's taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR.

People gathering signatures for the petition will also be getting signatures for a second initiative, which would protect private landowners from losing property to government agencies exercising their power of eminent domain.

The Colorado plan, adopted in 1992, created a political firestorm in that state. In November, Colorado voters will go to the polls to decide whether to suspend TABOR.

Critics say TABOR and a separate law that simultaneously guarantees increases in education spending have put Colorado in a fiscal crunch, where programs can't be properly funded and cuts are being forced in higher education, health care and other services. Bill Owens, Colorado's Republican governor, backs suspension of TABOR.

A group of Oklahoma House Democrats have urged voters to be cautious about signing the TABOR petition, saying it would harm education, health care and restrict funding of highway maintenance.

``Under TABOR, Oklahoma could not double our spending to improve the safety of roads and bridges as Republicans leaders proposed,'' said David Blatt of the Tulsa-based Community Action Project, which focuses on programs that help low-income citizens. ``Under TABOR, we would not be able to improve the quality of our public education.''

Supporters of the initiative petition said opponents are using scare tactics. They said the proposal would allow for adequate state spending increases tied to inflation and population growth.

Americans for Limited Government was formed in 2001 and is headquartered in Glenview, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

Coburn, the conservative Oklahoma senator elected in 2004, is listed on the group's Web site as chairman emeritus.

John Hart, the senator's spokesman, said Coburn helped form the group and was its chairman after leaving Congress in 2001 before running for the Senate last year. Hart said Coburn has no current role in the organization or the petition drive.

Americans for Limited Government lists as ``partners'' the Club for Growth State Action, US Term Limits and two organizations that promote home schooling and tax credits for parents who want to send their children to private schools _ the Parents in Charge Foundation and LEAD Action.

Listed on the Web site as ``resources'' for Americans for Limited Government in Oklahoma are the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think-tank, and Hero Oklahoma, a home schooling support group.

Brogdon, R-Owasso, said Americans for Limited Government ``showed interest in an initiative petition'' after hearing his TABOR resolution had been sidetracked in the Senate.

``From what I understand, that is a local issue,'' Heather Wilhelm, spokeswoman, said of the Illinois group's involvement in the Oklahoma petition drive.

Brogdon said the Oklahoma TABOR plan is different from Colorado's and will not cause budgetary problems that have arisen in that state.

The plan, he said, would abolish the state's Rainy Day Fund and create ``a true emergency fund'' equal to 5 percent of the state budget. It would require a three-fourths vote of the Legislature to tap the fund, instead of the current two-thirds.

The fund could only be used for emergencies such as those caused by natural disasters, Brogdon said.

It also would create a budget stabilization fund equal to 10 percent of the state budget to handle revenue shortfalls.

Spending would be limited to a combination of population growth and the inflation rate. Brogdon said that was just over 3 per cent last year, but state spending increased by 12 percent.

In years when there are big surpluses, the senator said, one half the excess would be placed in the budget stabilization fund and the rest would go back to individual taxpayers in the form of rebates.

He said the amount of the rebates would vary, depending on how much income taxes are paid in or are owed.

In other words, Brogdon said, wealthier taxpayers would get the biggest rebates because they had the biggest tax liability. ``It's about as fair as it can be,'' he said.

The plan differs sharply from a tax rebate plan proposed by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry and approved by lawmakers during the 2005 session.

Under that proposal, rebates estimated at $45 will go out to all individual taxpayers, with couples who file joint returns getting $90.

``I call that Gov. Henry's Christmas card,'' Brogdon said.
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