For the time being, an Oklahoma state district court has stopped the Oklahoma Tax Commission from enforcing new rules that would prohibit trucking companies from using third party agents to establish places of business in Oklahoma under the International Registration Plan (IRP). On Feb. 8, in response to a lawsuit filed Feb. 4, 2002, by ProCert Inc. and others, the state District Court of Oklahoma County issued a temporary restraining order restraining the tax commission from implementing, enforcing and administering the new rules.
The new rules were proposed by the Oklahoma Tax Commission in response to a mandate from the IRP that Oklahoma change its requirements regarding "place of business" or be sanctioned.
Headquartered in Oklahoma City, ProCert is a large transportation consulting firm, assisting truckers nationwide in licensing, titling, permitting and registration of their motor vehicles. In its lawsuit, ProCert seeks an injunction, in addition to a declaratory judgment from the court declaring that the new rules are unconstitutional and they violate the trucking industry's constitutional rights of freedom of contract, substantive due process and equal protection.
ProCert's President and CEO, Chris D. Gorman, expressed his opinion that the new rules were ill conceived in that they are unfair and burdensome to the trucking industry.
ProCert and two other companies are represented by Newt Cunningham III of the Dallas law firm of Roberts, Cunningham and Stripling. Cunningham said his client believes the IRP is becoming a "quasi governmental tribunal" and was never intended to be one. "If you look back at the way the IRP was set up, you were supposed to be able to choose the state in which you wanted your IRP account," Cunningham told Land Line. He says the new rules being proposed really hurt small truckers and owner-operators who find it cost-efficient and convenient to use a registration service such as ProCert.
Cunningham says Pro Cert believes the implementation of the new rules promote no legitimate state interest, but are the result of an attempt by large, out-of-state commercial interests who have lobbied the IRP for years to use the IRP to put their small competitors out of business. He said Pro Cert was not naming names, but indicated that ProCert believed the large commercial interests he spoke of were big brick and mortar trucking companies or large nationwide registration services.
"A hearing is scheduled for Mar. 7," said Cunningham. "For now, the process reverts to what it was before."
OOIDA President Jim Johnston said while Oklahoma's cheap and convenient registration may provide temporary benefits to some owner-operators and motor carriers, there's a down side. "It could be the beginning of the erosion of what we have worked long and hard to accomplish, and that is uniform licensing and registration throughout the country," said Johnston. "The IRP and more recently, the Internation Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) have been major contributing factors to accomplishing that uniformity. We are concerned that the dispute surrounding this issue could begin to erode the stability of those important components of uniformity."
Johnston doesn't agree that this action was a result of lobbying by trucking companies or other permitting agencies. "Most of the opposition to Oklahoma's practices is coming from other states who lose substantial revenues when truckers based in their states switch registration to Oklahoma," he said.