GOP unveils new road funding plan
Oklahoma City- Republican state lawmakers, (On Sept. 14), unveiled a plan that will provide nearly $300 million in new road funding in the next five years, more than double the amount that would have been provided by a fuel tax increase rejected by voters on Sept. 13.
“Yesterday, the people said: Not one more dime of my money; fix Oklahoma's roads with the dollars you already take from us,” said House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville. “We all agree that Oklahoma's roads are in bad shape. But the voters expect us to live within our means.”
A proposed fuel tax increase of 5 cents per gallon of gasoline was rejected by voters on Tuesday by a margin of 13-87 percent. In response to the will of the people, Republican legislators said the leadership of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate Republicans will now seek a nearly $300-million increase for road maintenance and repair.
“Senate Democrats have been in charge for nearly 100 years, and they have ignored our state's transportation needs for decades,” stated Senate Republican Leader Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. “Only now, with a Republican majority in the House and with a record number of Republicans in the Senate, have roads and bridges finally become a priority at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The plan we are unveiling today (Sept. 14) confirms the Republican commitment to improving our roads and bridges -without a tax increase.”
The new money will come on top of an extra $111.8 million provided for road maintenance and bridge repair during the 2005 legislative session.
Legislation approved this year committed $170 million in new road funding over the next several years with $17.5 million of that commitment provided immediately.
State Rep. Mark Liotta, who chairs the appropriation subcommittee with oversight of transportation, said the new Republican plan will build on this year's successes. Under the new proposal, the new road funding secured last session of $35 million annually will be increased to $50 million per year.
The total amount of new road money guaranteed over the next several years would increase from $170 million to at least $200 million.
Under the more aggressive Republican plan, the 2005 appropriation for roads will double in five years.
The Republican plan also calls for using $100 million in one-time surplus revenue for emergency bridge repair.
“This appropriation will take care of more than 50 of the worst of the worst bridges statewide,” said Liotta, R-Tulsa. “We will direct ODOT to identify and focus on the bridges carrying the most traffic that have the lowest safety ranking.”
The Republican plan also includes a separate plank to pay for repair of county roads and bridges. The fuel tax rejected by the voters would have given 10 percent of new money to counties, but the Republican plan will actually provide greater financial aid to cash-strapped county governments.
Currently, county governments receive 15 percent of revenue generated by motor vehicle registration fees. Under the Republican plan, the counties' share would double to 30 percent, providing an extra $85 million to $100 million per year.
The additional money would come from the state's general revenue fund and would not require cuts in any other programs. State Rep. Jim Newport, R-Ponca City, said the additional county road funding will benefit public school safety.
“Our children cross county roads and bridges every day on the school bus,” Newport said. “Unfortunately, some of the worst bridges in Oklahoma are county bridges and we have to address this safety issue immediately.”
The final plank of the Republican plan would implement management reforms at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Rep.Liotta has begun meeting with leaders of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to identify statutory reforms that would lead to cost savings and increase efficiency.
“Roads and bridges have been placed at the bottom of the Legislature's priority list for far too long. Our Republican plan improves on the record commitment to transportation, and makes roads and bridges a priority in the state budget for years to come,” said Sen. David Myers, R-Ponca City.
“The people of Oklahoma have spoken, and they have said they send enough tax dollars to Oklahoma City. The people want the Legislature to prioritize spending and to start spending their money more wisely. Our plan wisely makes roads and bridges a priority for the first time in recent memory,” said Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward.
“Before the 2005 legislative session, a typical year for ODOT gave them a $200 million budget,” Liotta said. “We have already begun the process of improving their funding and this plan more than doubles the amount of money going to road maintenance in Oklahoma.”
Rep. Fred Perry, R-Tulsa, said that “Our Department of Transportation, led by Gary Ridley, is filled with hardworking people who stretch taxpayer dollars. But funding for the department prior to 2005 has been analogous to giving a road crew a one-ton pickup, when what was needed was a ten-ton dump truck. House Bill 1078 and today's initiative help change that.”
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