Fuel tax effort surpasses petition goal in Oklahoma

| Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office has wrapped up a signature count on an initiative petition for a statewide vote to raise fuel taxes to fix roads and bridges.

Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads collected nearly 290,000 signatures on a petition that only needed 219,000 to get the measure on the ballot.

If adopted by voters, the proposal would raise the state’s diesel fuel and gasoline taxes to 22 cents a gallon. Currently, the diesel tax is 14 cents per gallon and the gasoline tax is 17 cents per gallon.

The anticipated revenue, estimated at $150 million annually, would be earmarked to improve state roads and bridges. A provision would lock in the amount the state Transportation Department now receives from fuel taxes so that lawmakers couldn’t reduce appropriations in response to additional funds the agency would get from the tax hike.

Former Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb is among those leading the charge on the proposal.

“We have 135 bridges in the state highway system that are over 80 years old,” McCaleb told The Oklahoman.

Of the 6,728 bridges on the state’s highway system, 481 need to be replaced and 1,116 are in dire need of repair, McCaleb said. More than 25 percent of the state’s 12,266 state highways and interstate highways are rated inadequate or critical.

Gary Ridley, state transportation director, told the Muskogee Phoenix the department doesn’t have the funds available to keep up with the aging infrastructure. He said ODOT had more state funding in 1985 than it does today.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court must authorize the fuel tax measure before Gov. Brad Henry schedules an election.

Ridley said if the proposed tax increase were to bring in the estimated amount, about $9 million would be split among cities and about $9 million would be divided among counties. The rest would go to ODOT, Ridley said.