OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill that would have carved out a sales-tax exemption for the trucking industry failed on the Senate floor Thursday amid a debate about fairness.
Last session, lawmakers passed and Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2433, which had the effect of applying a 1.25 percent sales tax to the purchase of new and used vehicles.
The bill removed the sales-tax exemption on new and used vehicles. The end result of the bill, which took effect July 1, was to increase the sales tax to 1.25 percent on top of a 3.25 percent excise tax.
Supporters of the bill said it was never intended to apply to tractor-trailers and sought clarifying language.
The clarifying measure, House Bill 1074, failed Thursday by a vote of 17 to 20. It needed 25 votes to pass.
The Senate author, Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, did not hold it on a motion to reconsider the vote by which it failed. He said he would have had to seek another vote Thursday.
Sharp said the measure was needed to keep trucking companies in the state. He said the fiscal impact of making the change was minimal, but he could not provide a dollar figure.
Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, opposed the bill.
“What bothers me about this is that we don’t want to allow this burden to continue on a special group of corporations or businesses, but it’s going to be fine and dandy to leave that burden on the common man you and I represent,” he said.
Quinn said he would vote for the bill when it treats average people the same as corporations.
“I will vote no because it is not fair, it is not right and it is not just to make another tweak to a tax policy for special interests and corporations and leave that burden hanging on the average citizen in our districts,” he said.
Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, said the people buying automobiles are still going to pay the tax. He said the state could expect another lawsuit alleging it violates the prohibition against “special laws” because voters still have to pay it.
In September, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that passage of the measure was not illegal because removing an exemption was different than applying a tax, which requires a super majority in both chambers.
Sharp said if the measure failed, companies would not be purchasing tractor-trailer rigs in Oklahoma, costing jobs to residents who drive them.
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols asked the Senate to reconsider the bill “so that jobs and revenue don’t leave the state.”
“This bill is a net positive revenue bill for the state without a tax increase,” Echols said in a prepared statement. “The purpose is to maintain Oklahoma’s economic status as the primary place for large and small trucking companies to register their trucks and trailers. Those companies are going to move their operations to other states unless we find a legislative fix that continues that partnership.”
Fallin called lawmakers into special session on Sept. 25 in an effort to fix the state’s budget. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers illegally passed a $1.50 a pack tax on cigarettes. The court’s action knocked a $215 million hole in the fiscal year 2018 budget.
Fallin’s executive order calling for the special session included clarifying “through legislative amendment the intended exemptions to the new 1.25 percent sales tax on vehicles.”