Oklahoma strips money from roads; challenge underway

| 6/13/2011

Funding for roads and bridges in Oklahoma is being tabbed for use elsewhere. However, it is not happening without a fight.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law a budget bill – HB2171 – that allows the state to transfer $102 million from fuel taxes for other uses in state government. The transfer is part of a $6.5 billion budget deal to fund state government for the upcoming year.

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 the Oklahoma Department of Transportation 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.

One opponent is not done fighting the plan. Jerry Fent, an Oklahoma City attorney, has filed a lawsuit against the state to reverse the transfer from transportation to other state agencies.

Fent alleges in his lawsuit that the state Constitution protects the transportation funds. He is referring to language that states “no tax levied and collected for one purpose shall ever be devoted to another purpose.”

A hearing before an Oklahoma Supreme Court referee is scheduled for June 21.

The state’s 13-cent-per-gallon diesel tax and 16-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax is designated to the state’s Transportation Fund, and other sources dedicated to improving roads and bridges throughout the state.

If the lawsuit derails the state’s plans, state officials say the budget would need additional funding or deeper cuts would be made.

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.