Oklahoma bill would redirect fuel taxes to bridge fund

| 5/3/2006

The Oklahoma Senate has approved a Republican-led plan that would double the investment for transportation projects during the next four years. The new funding would be in addition to an extra $111.8 million allocated for road and bridge repair during the 2005 legislative session.

Senators voted 42-0 to advance the bill – HB2940. It now heads to a House and Senate conference committee to work out the final details before sending it to Democratic Gov. Brad Henry’s desk.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials say more than 3,000 miles of Oklahoma’s more than 12,000 miles of highway need to be repaired or replaced. In addition, about 1,160 of the state’s more than 6,700 bridges are either deficient or obsolete.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark Liotta, R-Tulsa, the bill would redirect all motor fuel taxes now sent to the state’s general revenue fund into a new bridge fund. That would amount to an additional $7.7 million for ODOT, The Oklahoman reported.

“The House plan doubles the amount that we invest in roads, and it does so without raising taxes one penny,” Rep. Mark Liotta, R-Tulsa, said in a written statement.

The GOP-led effort includes a provision to pay for repair of county roads and bridges.

Currently, the state sends 15 percent of revenue generated by motor vehicle registration fees to county governments. Liotta’s bill would double the share for counties to 30 percent. That would amount to an extra $85 million to $100 million annually.

The effort isn’t the only legislation in Oklahoma this year addressing money for transportation that has gained passage.

Henry signed a bill in March to help fix the worst bridges on state highways and county roads throughout the state.

The new law, previously SB1288, allocates $125 million for bridges.

“With these emergency funds, we can attack the backlog of bride repair projects that has plagued Oklahoma for decades,” Henry said in a written statement. “Motorists in all four corners of the state will see improvements to make their bridges and overpasses safer.”

ODOT will get $100 million to repair or replace the most dilapidated bridges on the state highway system. Counties will get $25 million to fix their worst bridges.

A couple of Democrat-led initiatives that addressed transportation dollars, however, failed to gain passage.

One of those efforts sought to create the Oklahoma Safe Roads Trust Fund and require that all motor fuel taxes be deposited into the fund.

The full House declined to grant a hearing prior to an April 27 deadline on the proposal. It called for a statewide vote to amend the state’s constitution.

Senate Joint Resolution 58, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Howe, previously won approval before the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The Senate unanimously approved it in March.

Corn’s effort called for the trust fund to get all of the motor fuel taxes now sent to the state’s general revenue fund. That amounts to $7.7 million, The Oklahoman reported.

The fund also would have prohibited money from being used for anything other than construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. Oklahoma relies solely on fuel taxes to pay for road and bridge work.

One other failed effort sought to make an extra $10.6 million available for roads and bridges.

Sponsored by Sen. Daisy Lawler, D-Comanche, the bill would have changed the state transportation fund from a certified fund to a revolving fund.

Oklahoma law now restricts 95 percent of a certified fund to be appropriated.

Supporters said the restriction prohibits ODOT officials from spending money for roads. By turning the fund into a revolving fund, the agency could spend all road funding available on maintenance and repair.

The reclassification would have allowed a one-time increase of $10.6 million for road and bridge work.

The bill – SB1029 – won approval in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee but it did not receive a hearing on the House floor prior to the April 27 deadline. The Senate passed it in March.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor