Oklahoma bills to increase road funding advance

| 2/25/2008

Two committees on opposite ends of the Oklahoma statehouse have approved bills intended to make sure that more money is available for improving roads and bridges.

The House General Government and Transportation Committee voted in favor of a bill that would make available an additional $32.5 million annually for road and bridge maintenance. It now moves to the full House for a vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, the measure would remove a trigger in Oklahoma law that requires state revenue to grow at least 3 percent before the state Transportation Department receives an annual increase of up to $50 million.

A 2006 law provided for up to $50 million a year for roads and bridges in the state until $200 million in new funding was put together. The 3-percent stipulation led to only $17.5 million being allotted for transportation in the 2008 fiscal year.

The same roadblock to more funding is anticipated for the 2009 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Officials with ODOT said another failure to reach the growth figure would have a snowball effect on the agency’s backlog.

Transportation Director Gary Ridley said each passing year makes it more difficult to pay for transportation work. He cited a 45 percent increase in the cost of materials in the past three years, The Journal Record in Oklahoma City reported.

Liebmann’s bill – HB2551 – would require ODOT to get at least $50 million in new funding each year until the $200 million threshold is achieved. The state’s tax collection would have no bearing on the amount.

“Maintenance of roads and bridges is a core function of government, and there’s no reason to place an artificial limit on how much we can spend in that area,” Liebmann said in a written statement.

A similar effort in the Senate also is making progress. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve a bill that would eliminate the 3-percent stipulation.

Sponsored by Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, the measure – SB1396 – also would route motor vehicle fees for roads. Revenue from the fees now goes to the state’s general revenue fund.

The transfer would amount to about $30 million a year for five years.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Oklahoma in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor