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Retailers want tobacco tax on agenda

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Groups representing gas stations, convenience stores and grocers asked Gov. Brad Henry on Friday to include a revision to the state's tobacco tax on the agenda of the Legislature's special session.

Alan Chapman, president of the Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers Association and the Oklahoma Association of Convenience Stores, said the current state tobacco tax system is negatively impacting non-tribal retailers who are forced to compete with lower taxes the state collects from the tribal smoke shops.

``Without major reforms, the state and the health care community will be dramatically impacted by the loss of revenues,'' Chapman said in a news release.

Oklahoma voters approved the 80-cents-per-pack increase on the cigarette tax in November 2004 to generate an estimated $200 million annually for health care programs. However, tax collections have fallen short of projections each month.

Danny Boyle, chairman of the Oklahoma Grocers Association, said there must be a level playing field for all retailers in order to create parity and reduce incentives for consumers to purchase from tribal smoke shops. Doing so, Boyle said, would increase state tax revenues and adequately fund the health care initiatives.

Henry proposed a reform of the tobacco tax during regular session, but it did not pass the Senate on the final day of the legislative session, said Henry spokesman Paul Sund.

Sund said Henry supports placing the issue on the agenda but first wants legislative leaders to come to an agreement to ensure there are enough votes to pass it in the special session.

The special session will reconvene sometime after Monday, when the State Equalization Board will meet to give updated numbers on the funds remaining for appropriations, Sund said.
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