Oklahoma budget deal strips money from roads

| 5/24/2011

While lawmakers in nearby states have acted to route more money to transportation, Oklahoma lawmakers have taken the opposite approach.

The Oklahoma Legislature approved a $6.5 billion budget deal to fund state government for the upcoming year. One component of the deal – HB2171 – that has been sent to Gov. Mary Fallin is a raid on the state’s transportation fund.

To help work out a balanced budget the state will borrow about $102 million from the Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2012 for other uses in state government.

Unfortunately for truckers and other drivers who rely on Oklahoma roads and bridges, lawmakers targeted the transportation fund to help address a nearly $500 million hole in the state budget. To help ease the hit to transportation, the Legislature agreed to allow ODOT to sell $70 million in bonds.

Supporters say the bond issue will allow ODOT to move forward with the agency’s eight-year plan for improving roads and bridges.

Critics say voters should be the only ones able to sign off on incurring more debt for the state.

In the past few weeks, lawmakers in Utah and Nebraska acted to secure funding for road work.

Undeterred by a gubernatorial veto, Utah lawmakers voted to earmark 30 percent of future sales tax revenue to roads for a five-year period. Starting in 2013, about $59.6 million in sales tax revenue will be shifted from the state’s general fund to the highway fund.

To help address a road funding gap in Nebraska, a new law takes one-quarter of a cent of the 5.5-cent state sales tax each year for two decades and will apply it for highway construction. A projected $65 million a year – an estimated $1.3 billion over 20 years – is expected to benefit high-priority improvement and reconstruction projects throughout the state.

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

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.