Several Oklahoma lawmakers not surprised that ‘cigarette fee’ ruled unconstitutional

OKLAHOMA CITY - Just two days after a hearing at the state capitol, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled the 'cigarette fee' unconstitutional.

The fee was among four different bills passed this legislative session that were challenged on Tuesday.

Thursday's ruling focused on a lawsuit filed by cigarette manufacturers over the $1.50-per-pack tax on cigarettes.

The state claimed the bill protected public welfare by discouraging smoking.

However, the justices' ruling cited the act "did not indicate the purpose of the $1.50 assessment was to reduce the incidence of smoking, nor did they mention any non-revenue-raising regulatory purpose," according to a written ruling obtained by NewsChannel 4. The court also agreed the bill violated a state constitutional ban on passing revenue raising measures in the final five days of a legislative session without a 75 percent majority vote.

Republican Rep. Kevin Calvey said he's not surprised the measure was given the thumbs down from the court. He voted against the measure, which was highly supported by his Republican colleagues this past legislative session.

"Most observers of the situation probably expected this decision. I would commend Justice Wyrick, who issued the decision on behalf of the court. I think it’s the right decision. I think they should throw out the other tax increases that were passed this year, as well," Calvey said.

This is a similar sentiment shared by Minority Leader Rep. Scott Inman.

"For months, my colleagues and I rang the bell and told the governor and Republicans that, if they wanted to balance the budget and they wanted to do it in a constitutional way, it would require them to negotiate with us to compromise," Inman said.

The tax was expected to generate well over $200 million, with agencies like the Department of Human Services receiving about $69 million.

Sheree Powell, communications director for DHS, said there's no need for panic yet. According to Powell, the agency is planning on working with the state to come up with solutions.

"At this point in time, we just want to assure people who do receive services from DHS to be aware and alert, and we’ll be sure to make sure to make announcements if there are any changes to those services in the future," Powell told reporters Thursday.

Gov. Mary Fallin admits she is disappointed in the decision, but she "respects the justices' authority."

"I will be discussing with legislative leaders from both parties the need to address the $215 million shortfall this will create for the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the three agencies that received the bulk of the money that was to be generated by the cessation fee," a statement from Fallin read, in part.  “These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution. My belief is we will have to come into special session to address this issue.”