Last week I described the dangerous decline of transparency in the Legislature and how this is leading to an environment into which terrible ideas are quickly advancing from introduction to passage before legislators can figure out the implications and before the public can realize what is being done to them.
No proposal better illustrates this concern than the new 1.25% sales tax on new and used vehicle purchases.
This unpopular new tax did not go through the normal legislative process. It was a new concept that was introduced late in the legislative session with just a few days remaining before adjournment.
It was a weak proposal that would have never won approval had it not received the special treatment afforded to the bad, late-session ideas of legislative leaders.
The specific language of the proposed bill was released to the public at 9:10 p.m on the night of May 23rd (a previous version of the bill had been filed and then abandoned on the 22nd of May).
Minutes later, at 10:11 p.m. on that same night, the bill passed the Appropriations and Budget Committee by a close vote of 15 – 13.
Legislative leaders rushed the bill to the floor the next morning and by 1:00 p.m on May 24, the House approved the bill 59 – 37.
It took just 16 hours for House leaders and their legislative enablers to move the concept from introduction to final passage.
But that’s not all.
House leaders then asked that an emergency be declared and that the new tax should go into effect immediately instead of the three months that would normally provide a buffer zone between enactment and implementation.
Several legislators who had voted against the bill switched over to vote for the emergency and thus gave leaders the 68 votes they needed to pass the emergency.
This emergency prevented Oklahomans from having enough time to purchase their cars before the tax took effect.
One House District 31 constituent, a father of three, who previously lived in a large, left-leaning state, recently explained to me how this impacted him. He purchased pre-owned vehicle from a local dealer soon after the emergency took effect.
“I have never paid so much for vehicle registration,” he explained after getting the sticker shock of the new sales tax combined with the old, already-existing excise tax.
Oklahoma cars are now double taxed with both the sales tax and the excise tax, notwithstanding the fact that Oklahoma’s ongoing vehicle registration fees are some of the highest (if not the highest) in the nation.
I certainly don’t think this set a very friendly example to the transplanted House District 31 resident who probably thinks, “I thought Oklahoma was a taxpayer-friendly state; how is it that this tax is so punitive compared to my old state?”
Legislators acted so quickly that they clearly didn’t have time to remember the wisdom of President Reagan and a philosophy which many had likely parroted in their campaign platforms as they sought the support of the voters: “Simple fairness dictates that government must not raise taxes on families struggling to pay their bills.”
Notably, in their great haste, legislative leaders apparently didn’t realize that this tax would apply to the many trucking interests that purchase their vehicles in Oklahoma.
The toll on the trucking industry could result in these companies moving their money out of Oklahoma and a potential resulting shortfall to state government that exceeds the new revenues from the new tax.
Currently experiencing a collision with the reality of consequence, legislative leaders and the Governor are now scrambling to create a special exemption from the new tax for the trucking industry.
Regrettably, they won’t be so quick to act on behalf of the House District 31 father of three.
About a week’s worth of legislative transparency would have allowed us to avoid this whole mess. With the benefit of even scant public purview, legislators would have found the good judgment to vote against the bill.
This is just one example of many of the great evil that is wreaked upon the citizenry as the Legislature continues its dramatic move away from transparency and openness.