OKLAHOMA CITY —
Besides cutting the state’s top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, beginning in 2015, House Bill 2032 also diverts $120 million in income tax collections over the next two fiscal years to pay for improvements to the state Capitol. The bill was authored by House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and was part of a three-way agreement between the House, Senate and Gov. Mary Fallin, who has long championed a reduction in the state income tax.
A major overhaul of the nearly 100-year-old Capitol, including upgrades to the electrical and plumbing systems, also has been a priority of Fallin and legislative leaders. Yellow barricades have been erected in front of the 400,000-square-foot building to prevent pedestrians from approaching the south side of the Capitol, where large chunks of limestone have fallen from the building’s facade.
Fent, who has successfully challenged the Legislature before, said he doesn’t argue that that the Capitol doesn’t need to be improved, he just questioned the way in which lawmakers chose to do it.
“It’s probably a very worthwhile cause to get some money to fix the Capitol building,” Fent said after Tuesday’s hearing. “However, they need to do it constitutionally.”
Albert, a referee for the state’s highest court, will synthesize the arguments of both sides into a secret report that is presented to the nine-member Oklahoma Supreme Court, along with the court filings in the case. The court can then issue a ruling based solely on the filings and Albert’s report or choose to hear arguments itself before making a ruling.
If the court strikes down the bill, the practical effect would be to delay or derail major renovations of the state Capitol. Because the income tax reduction is not scheduled to take effect until 2015, with a separate cut planned for 2016 if certain revenue triggers are met, the Republican-controlled Legislature would simply have to pass another income tax cut bill when the session begins in February.
Funding the estimated $120 million or more needed to overhaul the Capitol could be a more politically thorny issue, since Shannon and the increasingly conservative House have been resistant to the idea of issuing bonds, even to pay for infrastructure improvements.