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Car tag vote by public mulled

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- House Speaker Loyd Benson says Democrat have limited options after Gov. Frank Keating's veto of the car tag reform bill because Keating has not sent "a clear signal" that he is willing to compromise.

It may come down to a simple decision by Democrats on whether or not to submit the $22.3 million tax-cut Keating vetoed Wednesday to a statewide vote, either as a referendum or a constitution alamendment, Benson said.

"We're still talking about it, it's one of two or three options," the speaker said Thursday night after the House adjourned.

In a series of developments earlier:

--Keating met briefly with the principal sponsors of the vetoed car tag bill -- Rep. Ron Kirby and Sen. Jim Maddux, Lawton Democrats-- to see if there is any room for a compromise, a spokesman for Keating said.

--A group of House Democrats said they will "pull out all the stops" to conduct an initiative petition drive for a statewide vote on car tags if the leadership does not decide to refer the matter to the people this fall.

--Republican House members, who urged the veto, proposed a new tag cut plan, but Democratic leaders said it was about the same as the one they rejected earlier in the session as too costly.

The latest GOP plan advanced in the House would cut taxes $110 million. An earlier plan rejected in a Senate committee would reduce costs by $138 million. "This is another attempt by us to compromise," said Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, minority leader.

Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said it was "no compromise at all."

"They've dressed it up in slightly different clothing this time, but it still guts funding for education and road construction without doing a single thing to reform the excise tax on car purchases," Taylor said.

Benson said late Thursday that Democratic leaders "just haven't gotten a very clear signal from the governor's office that Keating is really interested in a compromise. The only thing they've offered is basically the Todd Hiett bill and I don't think that is a very good compromise.

"Unless Keating indicates a slightly different bill would be acceptable, our options are limited. We can submit it to a vote of the people or not submit it to a vote of the people.

"Maybe the governor should listen to Senate Republicans and be amenable to a real compromise."

Hiett, GOP state representative from Kellyville, was principal author of the $138 million car tag tax-cut bill that Senate Democrats rebuffed as harmful to schools.

The Democrat-sponsored tag bill was opposed by all but one of the 40 House Republicans. But 11 of the 14 Republicans present voted for the measure.

Rep. Phil Ostrander, D-Collinsville, a member of an urban-rural coalition of Democratic House members, said the coalition is trying to persuade Taylor and Benson to advance a resolution for a statewide vote on the issue.

Another coalition member, Rep. Russ Roach, D-Tulsa, said it would be difficult, legally, to get an issue to a statewide vote this fall by the initiative petition process.

But Roach said "we will attempt it and pull out all the stops" if all else fails.

Taylor and Benson had earlier said they are considering a resolution for a statewide vote, either as a legislative referendum or a constitutional amendment.
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