City officials respond to MAPS 3 legal challenge

City officials sent a letter Tuesday to private attorney David Slane outlining the reasons his concerns are misplaced. Slane alleged the December 2009 MAPS 3 vote was unconstitutional because it violated the state’s single-subject rule since eight different projects would be financed with the sales tax extension.

The single-subject rule came into focus for Slane when a tort reform measure approved by the Oklahoma Legislature earlier this year was ruled unconstitutional, prompting Governor Mary Fallin to call a special session.

In the letter, Municipal Counselor Kenneth Jordan wrote, “Please note that the face of the ordinance and the face of the ballot title each reflect a single subject: a sales tax levy for the limited purpose of providing city capital improvements.”

In turn, Slane issued a statement vowing to review his stance and previous legal cases involving the single-subject rule.

“We feel we have an obligation to go back to square one and reconsider, in good faith, our position,” he said.
In a telephone interview with Oklahoma Gazette, Slane also said, “We didn’t do this mean-spirited, so we need to put it on hold. The taxpayers deserve for me to go back and reconsider this again.”

Slane, known for his unpopular stances involving controversial issues, promised his legal review would take no longer than “a few days.”

Last week, Slane said he would file a lawsuit with the Oklahoma Supreme Court if city officials did not respond to a letter he sent them Aug. 29. In the letter, Slane referred to the MAPS 3 ballot as “log rolling,” whereby a legislator or taxpaying citizen would cast an all-or-nothing vote on the eight projects.

Slane said he believes OKC residents should have been able to cast separate votes on each proposal, which included a convention center, walking and biking trails, senior wellness centers, a 70-acre public park, a streetcar system and Oklahoma River and Oklahoma State Fairgrounds improvements. The projects will cost $777 million.

Although the projects were not listed on the ballot, city officials and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce marketed the proposals as one initiative.

In his letter to city officials, Slane threatened to seek a restraining order preventing city officials from collecting the MAPS 3 tax or expending any funds from that account.

Case law
In his letter to Slane, Jordan referred specifically to a 2011 case that challenged the single-subject rule but was upheld at the trial and state Supreme Court level. The case centered on the 2007 passage of House Bill 1804, a strict immigration reform measure.

The lawsuit alleged the bill had unrelated subjects attached to it and violated the single-subject rule. However, the Supreme Court opined that Oklahoma case law adheres to the “germaneness test.”

“The most relevant question under such analysis is whether a voter (or legislator) is able to make a choice without being misled and is not forced to choose between two unrelated provisions contained in one measure,” the court wrote.

“The question is not how similar two provisions in a proposed law are, but whether it appears either that the proposal is misleading or that the provisions in the proposal are so unrelated that many of those voting on the law would be faced with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice.”

In a separate 1993 case, the Supreme Court rejected the broad, expansive theme approach to the single-subject requirement and said “legislation satisfies the one-subject requirement if the provisions are germane, relative and cognate to one another.”

Tim Farley

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