Highway plan OK'd by Oklahoma Senate panel

| 4/15/2005

An Oklahoma Senate panel has approved a transportation bill that would fund much-needed road and bridgework in the state without raising taxes. The measure, which the House previously approved, now moves to the full Senate for further consideration.

The Republican-backed funding plan 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 for the next 15 years.

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.

Currently, the highway agency receives about $200 million annually from state fuel taxes, The Oklahoman reported.

Despite passage from the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 6, the measure – HB1218 – likely is destined for a House-Senate conference committee because Senate Democrats have their own idea for funding transportation projects.

The Democratic-led plan is a pay-as-you-go approach that would commit $102 million annually to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s budget for the next 15 years to refurbish bridges and highways.

“By the year 2020, this plan will allow the Department of Transportation to replace 314 bridges to repair 552 others,” Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, said in a statement. “More than 2,000 miles of state highways will be resurfaced and 120 miles of barriers protecting against crossover accidents will be added to Oklahoma’s interstate system.”

Senators have objected to the House plan because they question whether general fund money specifically dedicated to schools, counties and cities would be affected.

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

Corn, author of the Senate “2020 Plan,” said that the Senate panel’s passage of HB1218 can initiate a dialogue with the House on this issue.