Oklahoma voters squash higher fuel taxes

| 9/14/2005

Oklahomans headed to the ballot box for a special election Tuesday, Sept. 13, and crushed an effort to boost the state’s fuel taxes to help fix roads and bridges.

State Question 723 was soundly defeated statewide with 87 percent of voters rejecting the proposal to boost Oklahoma’s per gallon tax on diesel and gasoline to 22 cents. Currently, the diesel tax is 14 cents per gallon and the gasoline tax is 17 cents per gallon.

The tax increase would have been phased in gradually over four years.

Even supporters of the effort admitted it faced tough odds, especially with fuel prices setting record highs over the past several weeks.

About 290,000 Oklahomans signed petitions early this year to get the issue on the ballot. But that was when prices at the pump were about $1 below Tuesday’s average of $2.64 a gallon for diesel and $2.79 for regular unleaded.

The effort anticipated garnering revenue estimated at $150 million annually for improving state roads and bridges. A provision sought to lock in the amount the Oklahoma Department of Transportation 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.

“No one will deny that our roads and bridges are not all in top form,” Katy Anderson, a spokesperson for Oklahoma Taxpayers United, a group that opposed the proposed tax increase, said recently in a written statement. “But the fact of the matter is that our legislators have already taken great steps to begin fixing the problem.”

Oklahoma lawmakers this spring approved a deal to eventually pump $170 million more each year into road and bridgework without raising taxes.

The new law adds at least $17.5 million a year for the state transportation department.

The plan includes a “lockbox” provision intended to keep future legislatures from diverting the new money from roads and bridges.

The added revenue source for roads and bridges is coupled with the recent passage of the federal Highway Bill that doles out $2.8 billion to Oklahoma in the next six years.