Oklahoma House OKs effort to direct funds to roads, bridges

| 3/22/2005

A transportation bill that would fund much-needed road and bridgework in Oklahoma without raising taxes has passed the state House.

House lawmakers voted 95-5 March 16 for the funding plan 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.

Transportation officials have said the state’s highway system includes 135 bridges more than 80 years old. About 25 percent of the state’s more than 12,000 miles of highways are inadequate and need to be rehabilitated or replaced.

“This plan goes the extra mile, literally,” House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, said in a recent statement. “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 remaining 45 percent goes to the general revenue fund for non-transportation needs.

The funding measure, sponsored by Rep. Jim Newport, R-Ponca City, would direct the funds back to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

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

Newport 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 in a statement. “Not one red cent is going to be taken away from education. Nobody’s going to suffer a loss.”

HB1218 has been forwarded to the Senate for consideration.