State could take away exemptions to increase revenue

Monday, April 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Lawmakers are expected to debate legislation this week that would remove some sales tax exemptions and promises to bring in more money for the state.

The proposal has gained support and could go before the House this week, said House Speaker Larry Adair.

``I don't think we have 51 votes (to pass it), but we're close,'' said Adair, D-Stilwell.

A special committee led by Rep. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, is examining the issue as a way to generate more money for state programs feeling the pinch of the state's budget crisis.

A key question is whether the changes would have to be approved by voters or just by the Legislature.

Oklahomans passed a constitutional amendment several years ago requiring revenue-raising measures to be approved by Oklahoma voters if they do not receive 75 percent approval of both houses of the Legislature.

Many legislators _ including Rep. Todd Hiett, the leader of the 48-member Republican caucus in the House _ believe it would have to go to voters.

Removing sales tax exemptions is just one of revenue-raising ideas under consideration as the Legislature grapples with the state budget with just five weeks left before adjournment.

In addition to removing some sales tax exemptions, other revenue-raising proposals are include adding a $1 tax to every pack of cigarettes. The money would pay for health care and a cancer center.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers are hoping the state will increase tag fees by $4.50 to prevent furloughs.

Legislators are also considering raising some court fees to help fund the state courts.

Wilson said he hopes to have a Tax Commission report this week, on how much money could be produced by removing some sales tax exemptions.

While the final list of exemptions to be removed has not been released, committee members say some possibilities including taking away the exemption on lodging, laundry, computer services, auto repairs, amusements and accounting and auditing fees.

Lawmakers are also considering cutting the sales tax on food.

This would be offset by gains from removing sales tax exemptions on other items.

Ronn Cupp of The State Chamber said removing sales tax exemptions would be a step toward taxing services, which The State Chamber opposes.

``Our thought is they negotiated a budget two or three weeks ago. They should pass the budget and go home,'' Cupp said. ``The bottom line is, we think businesses have had to tighten their belts and consumers have. We think state government should do that too.''