Oklahoma Senate votes to boost road funding

| 3/14/2008

More money would be made available for improving roads and bridges throughout Oklahoma if legislation moving through the statehouse becomes law.

So far this month, the state’s Senate has overwhelmingly approved at least two bills that are intended to make available an additional $32.5 million annually for road and bridge maintenance.

Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, introduced a bill – SB1141 – that 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.

“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,” Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, the bill’s House sponsor, said in a written statement.

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.

Corn isn’t alone in his pursuit of freeing up more money for transportation. Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, offered a similar bill – SB1396 – that includes a provision to 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.

“Senate Bill 1396 is a common-sense way to increase funding without raising taxes by using more of our existing road taxes on roads,” Bingman said in a written statement.

The redirection of motor vehicle fees also is included in another Senate-approved bill – SB1767.

The Senate bills are awaiting assignment to committee in the House. There, a similar measure – HB2551 – also has been approved. Its next stop is the Senate.

The ultimate fate of the various versions will be determined in budget negotiations. Legislators say that slowed state revenue growth could make it difficult to advance road funding bills.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor