Oklahomans would already be enjoying low tag prices comparable to those in Virginia if Governor Keating had not vetoed a car tag bill last year in an effort to use the issue in this year's elections, according to a State Senate leader.
Senator Cal Hobson was responding to comments made by Governor Keating and Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore at the State Republican Party Convention in Oklahoma City Saturday.
"Oklahomans would already be paying low, Virginia-like tag fees if Governor Keating hadn't vetoed a tag cut last year. He's more interested in using tags as an election-year issue than he is in delivering real relief to Oklahoma motorists. If the people who attended this convention paid more than $85 for their license plate this year, they can thank Governor Keating because he's the one who took away their tag savings with his veto," said Senator Hobson, vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Gov. Keating vetoed a bill last year that would have slashed the price of car tags, setting the annual fee at $85, $45 and $15 depending on the age of the vehicle. It would have also reformed the excise tax assessment on car purchases, applying the tax to the actual sales price minus the value of any trade-in vehicle. Currently, the tax is assessed against the higher sticker price with no credit for a trade-in.
A similar bill, HB 2663, is awaiting final legislative action this year.
Unlike a proposal advocated by Governor Keating, it protects entities such as education and road construction that receive vehicle revenue by slightly increasing the excise tax to help offset revenue losses. Even with that change, Oklahoma motorists would still realize $11 million in tag savings under HB 2663.
Senator Hobson stressed that it was important for Oklahoma to cut tag costs without harming education funding, given the fact that the state currently ranks 42nd in per pupil funding. Virginia, on the other hand, is 25th in school funding. A recent analysis indicated that Governor Keating's tag bill would cut up to $84 million from the Oklahoma public school budget.
"We want to be like Virginia on tag fees, but we also want to be like Virginia on education funding. Virginia ranks in the top half of the country when it comes to properly funding their public schools; Oklahoma ranks in the bottom 10. If we want to improve and give Oklahoma schools the same resources that they get in Virginia, we have to be careful about chipping away at the revenue our public education system relies on," said Senator Hobson.
"We'll never get to where we need to be on car tags or education if we implement Governor Keating's program."
The Lexington legislator said he was disappointed but not surprised to see that Governor Keating's office was promoting the political angle of Governor Gilmore's visit to Oklahoma, namely the role that the car tag issue played in recent Virginia elections.
"I think the fact that Governor Gilmore has been asked to talk about how the license plate issue played in the Virginia elections speaks volumes about Governor Keating's real interest in the tags. I think he's been trying his best to play election-year politics with the tag bill, hoping that he can use the issue to some kind of advantage in November. Some people think the only reason he vetoed the bill last year was so he could extend this debate into an election year, regardless of the cost to Oklahoma motorists," noted Senator Hobson.
"I think Oklahomans would be better served if Governor Keating spent a little more time trying to work out a compromise on car tag reform and a little less time calculating the political benefits he can wring out of the issue in an election year."