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Benson looking at $25 million cut

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- House Speaker Loyd Benson says he's "100 percent sure" the Legislature will enact a cut in car tags this year, probably in the range of $25 million.

At his weekly news conference Thursday, Benson said the final version of the bill reducing motor vehicle license costs will likely be "in the neighborhood of $25 million."

The Frederick Democrat commented after releasing a letter telling 15 urban Democrats he is working to incorporate their ideas in the measure.

Two weeks ago, the Democratic House members sent Benson a signed memorandum calling for a tag reform measure that cuts revenue by "at least $25 million but no more than $40 million."

The lawmakers also called for closing "current fraud and cheating loopholes" in the system.

Benson said he has had a working group meeting on the tag issue.

"I sincerely believe that the principles you outlined will be included and actually provide the basis of a final package," the speaker wrote.

A tag bill now in conference, by Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, would cut license costs by $11 million. Another shell bill on tags is being held in reserve.

Benson said no agreements have been reached with Senate leadership on the size of the car tag tax reduction.

Republican Gov. Frank Keating and GOP lawmakers have been pushing for a $138 million tax cut, which would cost $68 million the first year. Democrats say that is too costly.

Earlier this week, Keating said there was room for compromise, perhaps on a bill containing cuts of $40 million to $45 million.

On Thursday, Keating chastised the Democratic leadership for not rolling out and passing a car tag bill this week as he requested. "The clock is ticking," he said.

The Legislature is under a May 26 deadline to adjourn.

After saying he is certain a tag bill containing significant tax relief will pass the Legislature, Benson was asked what he considered significant.

"Anything from zero to $25 million," he said.

Despite Benson's optimism, Rep. Larry Ferguson, D-Cleveland, said he would not be surprised if legislative leaders opt to place tag relief to a vote of the people, thus delaying its implementation and for a year and easing the current budget crunch.
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