DUNCAN, OK (KSWO) - A Democratic lawmaker from Oklahoma City is warning of deeper cuts to vital state agencies if a recent lawsuit challenging the state's new cigarette tax is upheld.
The $1.50 per pack tax was passed as part of the state's $6.8 billion dollar budget for the fiscal year. But, two of the nation's largest tobacco companies want the State Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.
Representative Jason Dunnington said under the state's constitution, lawmakers cannot pass revenue-raising measures in the last five days of the session. And, they can't approve revenue-raising measures at any time without at least a 75 percent majority in the legislature, which they didn't get.
Dunnington said if the fee is ruled unconstitutional, it would mean deeper budget cuts as much as 4 to 5 percent to vital areas like education and healthcare.
Representative Jason Dunnington said Republican leaders tried to get around the constitutional requirements by changing the wording of the proposal, from a tobacco tax to a fee.
"We tried to pass the tobacco tax about three weeks before the end of season but it didn't get the votes that it needed to pass the constitutional muster , we did this on the last day of session as a fee its the exact same thing that we tried to pass and it only got 51 votes and we just don't think its going to hold up," said Dunnington.
Dunnginton said there are other ways lawmakers could have raised the money.
"We could have rolled back the gross production tax to a rate that was much more sustainable at its historic 7 percent rate we could have returned income tax rates back to a level where they were a decade ago that helped us fund core services in government," said Dunnington.
Dunnigton said if the tax is overturned, that means a loss of about $215-million dollars to the state's budget, and he's worried that education will take another hit.
"Something like this could cost them another couple of million dollars mid year that's devastating to our children, that's devastating to our families, and its really unfortunate that we have been put in this position, said Dunnington.
Dunnington said he will continue to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle trying to have conversations about how they can make things better and make the process more transparent doing what's best for the state.
"Oklahoma citizens are tired of that what they need right now is real leadership that cast a vision that says our state can be better than 49th and 50th in every category that we fall into right we are better than that," said Dunnington.
It's still not clear when the Supreme Court will hear this lawsuit.
But Dunnington said if it the tax is overturned, it's possible that the governor would need to call a special session for lawmakers to determine how to deal with the loss of revenue.