Case Number: 2017 OK 85
Judge: Joseph M. Watt
Court: THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA
Stanley M. Ward
Woodrow "Woody" K. Glass
Robert Bennett Houston
Brent L. Neighbors
Barrett T. Bowers
Defendant's Attorney: Mithun Mansinghani, Michael K. Velchik, Abby Dillsaver, and Ethan Shaner, Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General, and Marjorie L. Welch, Oklahoma Tax Commission
Description: On June 28, 2017, Petitioner filed an application to assume original jurisdiction, in this Court, to challenge H.B. 2433,1 2348,2 and 14493 as unconstitutional revenue bills under Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution and to request declaratory judgment or other relief. Respondents argued that none of the bills are revenue bills, therefore they do not violate Article V, Section 33. On August 8, 2017, we heard oral arguments in this matter.
¶2 H.B. 2433 partially removes the exemption from paying state sales tax on the purchase of a motor vehicle. On August 31, 2017, this Court determined that removals of exemptions are not levies of a tax in the strict sense of the word and thus are not revenue bills. Okla. Auto. Dealers Ass'n v. State ex rel. Okla. Tax Comm'n (Auto. Dealers), 2017 OK 64, ¶ 0, __ P.3d __. Consequently, the Court found that H.B. 2433 is not subject to the restrictions of Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution and is constitutional. Id.
¶3 H.B. 2348 uncouples the standard Oklahoma income tax deduction from the amount allowed by the Internal Revenue Code and freezes it at the 2017 level for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. It passed with more than 51%, but less than 75%, of the vote in both chambers in early May 2017. It is unclear at this time whether it will raise revenue for the state, and if so to what extent, as the federal standard deduction for 2018 or beyond has not been declared.
¶4 H.B. 1449 created the Motor Fuels Tax Fee for electric-drive and hybrid-drive vehicles, of $100 and $30 per year respectively, and directed the money from the fees be deposited to the State Highway Construction and Maintenance Fund. On October 24, 2017, this Court determined that the Motor Fuels Tax Fee created by H.B. 1449 was both for a revenue raising purpose and was a levy of a tax in the strict sense of the word. Sierra Club v. State ex rel. Okla. Tax Comm'n, 2017 OK 83, ¶¶ 16, 25, 26, __ P.3d __. Consequently, the Court found that H.B. 1449 is a revenue bill subject to the restrictions of Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution and is unconstitutional. Id. ¶ 26.
¶5 To be appropriate for judicial inquiry, a controversy must be justiciable. Dank v. Benson, 2000 OK 40, ¶ 8, 5 P.3d 1088, 1091. A justiciable controversy must be definite, concrete, and capable of a decision granting or denying specific relief of a conclusive nature. Id. This Court will not decide abstract or hypothetical questions. Rogers v. Excise Bd. of Greer Cty., 1984 OK 95, ¶ 15, 701 P.2d 754, 761. Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution only applies to bills that raise or increase revenue, not to revenue related bills which serve to decrease overall revenue. Fent v. Fallin, 2014 OK 105, ¶¶ 13, 18, 345 P.3d 1113, 1117-18. Because it is unclear at this time whether H.B. 2348 will increase revenue in Oklahoma, it is not ripe for review at this time.
¶6 Further, H.B. 2433 has already been addressed and found constitutional by this Court as not being subject to Article V, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution in Auto. Dealers, 2017 OK 64, ¶ 0, __ P.3d __; therefore a challenge to H.B. 2433, for this reason, is moot. Likewise, H.B. 1449 has already been addressed and found unconstitutional by this Court in Sierra Club, 2017 OK 83, ¶ 26, __ P.3d __; therefore any challenge to H.B. 1449 is also moot.
Outcome: Accordingly, we decline to assume original jurisdiction. No petition for rehearing may be filed.