On August 10th, The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that state lawmakers failed to ‘follow constitutional requirements’ when they passed a $1.50 increase in the tax on cigarettes.
The new tax, estimated to bring a $200 million of revenue for the state budget, was ruled as ‘unconstitutional’ by the state’s high court. Oklahoma legislators now have a week to pursue a rehearing for their recent decision. Governor Mary Fallin has called for a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature to address the issue.
Fallin said the session should address funding issues with the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
Because of the failure of the cigarette tax, each entity could lose a quarter of its entire state-appropriated budget.
“These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution,” Fallin said. “My belief is we will have to come into special session to address this issue.”
Ashley Burke, a Social Worker said she hopes the funding remains.
“I wanted it to pass,” Burke said. “I’m personally torn on the matter. The members of my facility and others that suffer from mental health and substance abuse would be the ones hurt most by this tax.”
Burke said she went to the State Capitol to advocate mental health funds but was unaware of was that she was advocating included a cigarette tax.
“They provided for us that the most effective way to stop people from smoking would be to increase the cost of cigarettes.” Burke said, “I don’t believe that’s necessarily true but that shows that it wouldn’t be sustainable in the long run.”
Burke thinks that in order for mental health to have its fund it means taxing the people receiving the services that can’t even afford food.
Twenty five year old Matt Colston has observed the taxes shift back and forth.
“This was not the narrative that they gave when the tax was proposed,” Colton said. “They said they wanted to pass this through so they could hopefully see a decrease in Oklahomans that smoke.”
Colston agreed that the bill was unconstitutional. He said citizens shouldn’t be taxed by personal life choices.
“It’s very dangerous if we allow the state to throw taxes at us to control our behavior,” Colston said, “That’s just how I feel about it.”
While certain medical facilities begin to worry, others look at this tax with a positive look hoping to save our healthcare facilities, and insurance.
Oklahoma’s rate is now 50 cents under the national median, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. The Oklahoma Policy Institute said the fight over the cigarette tax helps explain why tax collections have increased at an annual average rate of 9 percent over the last fifteen years.
As lawmakers continue to seeks solutions, citizens stay torn of what will benefit their health in the end. Some question if their facilities will stay open, others wonder if the tax is a punishment to their daily routine.