Oklahoma bill would prohibit foreign ownership of state turnpikes

| 2/27/2008

A bill sent from committee to the Oklahoma House of Representatives would prohibit foreign investors from leasing or owning turnpikes in the state.

The bill, HB3182, introduced by state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, would “prohibit the Oklahoma Transportation Commission and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority from entering into any contract or lease agreement with a foreign company or any majority-owned subsidiary of a foreign company to operate or maintain any state-owned turnpike,” according to a press release from the Oklahoma House.

The bill passed through the House General Government and Transportation Committee on Monday, Feb. 25, and moved to the House floor for vote. The vote had not been scheduled as of Wednesday, Feb. 27.

Kern says she does not want Oklahoma to follow Indiana’s example by leasing a major highway to foreign investors.

“We have situations arising across our nation where legislators are selling or leasing toll roads to foreign companies for a quick infusion of cash,” Kern told Land Line.

“That helps in the short term, but in the long-term, those legislators still have to deal with budget issues.”

Kern says a long-term lease to a private investor is equivalent to a sale.

“A lot of these leases are 50 to 99 years,” she said. “According to the IRS, a 50-year lease is the same as a sale. And often times there are provisions in these leases that say they can’t have competition on nearby roads.”

A well-publicized example of private investment backfiring on the government happened in Orange County, CA, where the state government leased control of state Route 91 to private investors.

“Seven years later, they were having gridlock and they were prohibited from building new roads,” Kern said. “The citizens had to buy back that road.”

Oklahoma has 10 turnpikes.

Kern praised truckers for their efforts, saying they deserve good roads at affordable costs.

“The truckers move the goods and services of this nation and they need to know that their highways are maintained,” she said. “When they have to take toll roads, they want to know that those roads are being maintained and the tolls aren’t going up every year for a foreign company to profit.”

For information on other Oklahoma legislation, click here.

– By David Tanner, staff writer