Initiative Petition To Raise State's Gross Production Tax Passes Legal Hurdle
OKLAHOMA CITY - The passage of a pay raise and funding package Monday night, by members of the state House, is raising questions about the future of a citizen-led effort to give teachers a pay raise by increasing the state's gross production tax (GPT) on oil and natural gas.
The group Restore Oklahoma Now is hoping to raise the GPT through initiative petition. Their effort just cleared an important legal hurdle last week, as the state Supreme Court, without dissent, rejected a legal challenge to the petition's language.
Restore Oklahoma Executive Director Mickey Thompson says the group formed last August in response to the Legislature's seeming inability to make progress on major issues. He says their top priority was to give teachers the raise that lawmakers and the governor have been promising, and paying for it by restoring the gross production tax to seven percent.
"Seven's where it was for thirty years or so," said Thompson, "and it still keeps us the lowest among major oil-producing states."
Thompson understands oil and gas because he worked in the industry for more than two decades. He says what oil and gas companies value most -- local geology, regulatory and legal climate, pooling rights -- are all in their favor in Oklahoma.
"And yet we have this sweetheart deal on taxes," said Thompson, "which doesn't provide enough money to help fund the vital services that we need to provide through state government."
But now, with the House approving a package of tax increases -- including a hike in GPT to five percent -- Thompson knows, depending on what the Senate and Governor do, he and his group may have to rethink their plan.
"Yes, if the Legislature passes something significant, it would have an effect," Thompson admitted, "probably a negative effect on our ability to win on this petition drive."
For now, Thompson says the petition drive is still a go. He says the effort to start collecting 123,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot is likely to start next month.