Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Keating Signs $4.9 Billion Appropriations Bill

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Keating Signs $4.9 Billion Appropriations Bill

Article excerpt

Democratic legislative leaders should turn their attention to meaningful car tag reform now that important issues such as the general appropriation bill and pay hikes for state employees and teachers are resolved, Gov. Frank Keating said Monday.

"It's essential to having a successful end to the session," the governor said of auto tag reform.

Keating signed the $4.9 billion general appropriation earlier Monday. The bill ensures that state agencies and programs will be funded at a base level during the upcoming fiscal year. Any further adjustments in funding will come in separate reconciliation measures.

"What arrogance to suggest this is our money," the governor said. "This is the taxpayers' money."

Keating repeated the often-heard GOP contention that the state has some $500 million in new money this session, of which more than $300 million in still available for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

"It's imperative the Legislature use the remaining days of this session to focus on the people who foot the bill and that's the taxpayers," he said. "The citizens have spoken loudly regarding their desire for a meaningful car tag fee cut."

The governor contended that the budget can support a substantial reduction in car tag and registration costs, adequately funding higher education and the second phase of a $1 billion highway program.

Lawmakers have discussed lowering car tags for the past two sessions, Keating added. Actually, the Legislature sent a car-tag bill to the governor's desk last year, which he vetoed. The governor said at the time that the measure, authored by Rep. Ron Kirby, D- Lawton, gave a reduction with one hand, by cutting tag fees, then took it back by increasing the tax on automobiles.

This year's main Democratic car tag bill, of which Kirby is also the author, is similar to last year's measure, but results in a net reduction of $11 million.

Both of the key Democratic and GOP tag proposals call for reducing tag fees to a flat $85 for the first five years, $45 for years six through 10 and $15 for the 11th year and thereafter. However, the Democratic plan would increase the existing 3.25 percent excise tax rate, levied on factory delivered price, to a sales tax of 4.5 percent, on actual sales price.

The Republican bill, authored by Rep. Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, does not change the taxation scheme and would result in a savings of about $138 million to car owners. Democratic leaders say that the state budget as currently written cannot withstand this heavy a hit on revenues.

Negotiations are under way on a compromise approach to tag reform, and legislative vehicles are available for a proposal to be authored by House Speaker Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, and Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore.

Keating indicated Monday that he might find acceptable a proposal that nets a reduction of $40 million to $45 million.

"The Legislature has debated this issue over the course of the past two legislative sessions, and now that the general appropriation process is complete, car tag reform must become the top priority for lawmakers to resolve before they adjourn May 26," the governor said.

Keating said that when session started, he called for four things to stimulate the state's economic growth: right to work which recently failed; workers comp reform and increased educational rigor, which he said are both "on life support," and tax reductions.

"It takes taxpayers to provide tax revenue," said Keating. "The taxpayers so far have been left in the dust."

The governor said that some Democratic legislative leaders themselves called for agency funding cuts at one time. …

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