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Governor issues veto threat on redistricting

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Any congressional redistricting plan that places more than one incumbent into the same district will be vetoed, Gov. Frank Keating said Wednesday.

Keating also shrugged off suggestions that lawmakers act speedily to reverse an automatic income tax increase. He said he always favors tax reductions, but a better idea would be to overhaul the tax code and abolish the income tax altogether.

Republican Wes Watkins announced earlier this week that he is retiring as U.S. representative from the 3rd Congressional District and suggested his departure eliminated the need to combine the districts of remaining incumbents.

``If the Democrat Legislature doesn't want to do that, I think the governor should veto the bill and go to court for the best interests of Oklahoma,'' Watkins said.

Keating said he would follow Watkins' advice and veto such a bill, but preferred that disagreements over redistricting be resolved through the normal political process and not by the courts.

Oklahoma is losing one of its six congressmen because the state's population did not grow as fast as other states.

Prior to Watkins' announcement, it was a mathematical certainty that two incumbents would have to face each other in the 2002 elections.

Five of the six members of the Oklahoma delegation are Republicans, including Steve Largent, who is resigning effective Feb. 15 to run for governor. Tulsa voters go to the polls Tuesday to pick his replacement.

``We're going to have one freshman as it is. Why have two?'' Keating asked.

With only five of 435 Congress members, it is important for the Oklahoma delegation to have as much seniority as it can as it competes with larger states for money for roads and other projects, the governor said.

Some Republicans in the state House have suggested rolling back an increase in the income tax rate from 6.75 percent to 7 percent that took effect Tuesday.

But Keating said lawmakers should take bold action to eliminate the income tax as part of his tax reform package that features a new 5.9 percent sales tax on services.

By losing a congressman and continuing to lag the rest of the nation in per capita income statistics, Keating said Oklahoma's economy is not working.

He said it was like a car that had gone off the road and into a ditch because of worn tires.

``We need first to change the tires. We need new tires _ a new tax code,'' he said.

Tuesday's increase in the income tax is tied to new projections of a drop in state revenue collections, primarily because of lower interest rates and a dip in natural gas prices.

Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, has proposed reconvening a special session to repeal a 1998 law that required the income tax rate to return to its old 7 percent level if there is a downturn in state revenues.

Lawmakers had lowered the rate to 6.75 percent under the 1998 law and it had been set to fall to 6.65 percent on Jan. 1.
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