Effort would direct funds to Oklahoma roads, bridges

| 3/11/2005

A five-year transportation plan to fund much-needed road and bridge work in Oklahoma without raising taxes has been approved by a state legislative panel.

The House Appropriations and Budget Committee voted 10-7 along party lines March 9 to pass a bill that would shift $35 million in vehicle tag money the first year and $170 million after five years from the state’s general fund and tag it for road repairs and maintenance.

“This plan goes the extra mile, literally,” said House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville. “And instead of raising taxes, we’re simply putting dollars back where they belong.”

The state motor vehicle tax raises about $600 million a year, with 55 percent of it earmarked for education and other spending. The five-year transportation bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Newport, would not change that. The general revenue fund has been getting the remaining 45 percent.

The Republican funding measure would direct the general revenue fund back to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Opponents questioned whether money could be taken from general revenue without affecting other spending priorities.

“In reality, this is just a smoke screen to say we’ve got a revenue stream,” Rep. Ray McCarter, D-Marlow, told The Oklahoman.

Newport, R-Ponca City, said new tax revenue from economic growth would replenish the fund and no money would be taken from dedicated sources.

“The primary goal of this legislation is to adequately finance the continued maintenance and development of the roads and bridges in this state,” Newport said. “Not one red cent is going to be taken away from education. Nobody’s going to suffer a loss.”

HB1218 has been sent to the GOP-dominated House for consideration.