Decision on car tag cut shifts to voters

Monday, July 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A new poll suggests that Democrats will reap any political advantage in the fall elections from the car tag ruckus that led to last week's special session.

But the general consensus is citizens will be thinking mostly of their pocketbooks -- and not politics -- when they vote on a Democrat-sponsored car tag reduction question on Aug. 22.

"Clearly, voters are going to have to vote their self-interest," Republican Gov. Frank Keating said last week after it became clear that Democrats were not going to entertain another tag bill at the special session.

House and Senate leaders said they would have faced a revolt from members who thought reopening the issue would let Republicans off the hook politically.

After all, Democrats are convinced the referendum will pass easily if voters decide the issue on what's best for them individually.

They point to Tax Commission figures showing roughly two-thirds of Oklahomans are guaranteed a reduction in car tag fees -- those buying new or nearly new vehicles or renewing their tags. Car tag snow cost several hundred dollars on newer vehicles.

"This is a big, big deal all across the state," says House Speaker-elect Larry Adair, D-Stilwell. He says all voters want to know is when the $85 maximum car tag cost will take effect.

That will occur Oct. 1, ahead of the November general election.

Adair says Democratic House incumbents who voted for the plan the past two years will benefit politically and that could make the difference in some close races.

If the issue had not been placed on the ballot, he said, the GOP would have made failure to resolve the question the top issue in a drive to elect a majority to the House, which now has 61 Democrats and 40 Republicans.

Democrats, and even some Republican senators, believe GOP House members made a political mistake by not voting for the final car tag bill, a $22.3 million cut.

Their arguments were bolstered by a poll taken by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates, the political consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Tom Cole, now chief of staff of the Republican National Committee in Washington.

When voters were asked how they would vote on the car tag issue, 74 percent indicated they would vote for it -- 44 percent definitely and 30 percent probably.

The poll showed that 77 percent of Republicans would vote for the bill, one percentage point more than Democrats.

"There is no demographic, social, political or geographic group which does not support car tag reform in overwhelming numbers," Cole said.

But Cole doubts it will be a major issue in November, since it will be decided at the August primary election.

Steve Edwards, state Republican chairman, agreed the referendum will pass because it is an "OK deal" that is better than the current "bad deal."

Edwards said it was nonsense to think Republicans would be hurt politically by opposing one tax cut in an effort to get a bigger tax cut.

Keating twice vetoed the Democrats' car tag plan, in deference to House Republicans. The bill received significant GOP support in the Senate, however.

Edwards said GOP House members who opposed the bill will "sit on the sidelines" prior to the August vote, not trying to persuade voters either way.

Then, Edwards said, "we will make it an issue in the fall. The issue will be do we go further and have further tax cuts."

He said voters will be reminded that the Democratic plan will mean an increase in costs for most motorists purchasing used cars.

Democrats say those increases will be recouped in a few years because of lower tag prices, some as low as $15.

Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor suggested that before Aug. 22, voters take their car registration and title information to a tag agency and ask: "Am I going to pay more under the current system or will I pay more on what we're voting on in August?

"It will pass because citizens will pay significantly less under the proposal," he said.