Oklahoma's top prosecutor favors tax hike repeal effort

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma attorney general's office has sided with a group trying to repeal recently approved tax hikes meant to fund teacher pay raises.

The office on Tuesday said the wording of the group's referendum petition for a statewide vote is clear enough for people to understand what tax hikes would be repealed, the Oklahoman reported. The opinion is a loss for the Oklahoma Education Association, the second education group to get turned down by Attorney General Mike Hunter.

But state attorneys also said the state Supreme Court should clarify whether the tax bill referendum would affect a separate teacher pay raise bill.

"This is important, because if (the tax bill) is properly put to a vote, the voters will benefit from this Court's authoritative guidance of the implications of their vote," Hunter's office said in written arguments.

The Supreme Court asked the office for its opinions on two challenges education groups filed against a petition being circulated by Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite, an anti-tax group led by former Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for both challenges on June 11.

The attorney general's office sided with the anti-tax group last week in response to the first challenge, which was filed by the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators. The office said the court should give broad protections to referendum petitions and reject arguments that the referendum process shouldn't be used to seek the repeal of legislation considered vital to the state's core functions.

Tuesday's opinion responded to the second challenge, by the Oklahoma Education Association and several other education-related groups. The challenge argued that the petition is incomplete and inaccurate regarding the affected tax provisions if a statewide vote were held.

The tax bill raised taxes on motor fuels, cigarettes and the production of some oil and gas. It also modified the taxation scheme for some cigars but the petition's summary doesn't mention such a tax.

"While the gist certainly could have been more precise, the referendum petition's technical deficiencies do not merit its invalidation," the attorney general's office wrote.

Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite has until July 18 to collect about 42,000 signatures to get a statewide vote on the repeal.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com


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