Oklahoma plan would rob roads for schools

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/8/2014

A plan to raid Oklahoma transportation funds for education is underway at the statehouse.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 20-3 to advance an amended education funding bill that would route hundreds of millions of dollars for roads and bridges to public schools. HB2642 awaits consideration on the Senate floor. If approved there, it would head back to the House for consideration of changes.

In 2012, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law to authorize $59.7 million annually – an $18 million increase from previous levels – from income tax collections to fix and repair Oklahoma’s 706 state-owned bridges rated structurally deficient.

Once the special state bridge fund reaches a $575 million cap, bridge maintenance funding is slated to revert back to the prior level of $41.7 million annually.

However, Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater, added a provision to this year’s education funding bill that would require ODOT to give up half of the annual amount coming from income tax collections. Instead, $29.8 million each year would go to public schools until they are receiving $600 million more per year.

Oklahoma educators praise the effort. However, Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Mike Patterson says the switcheroo likely would push back completion of the agency’s eight-year road and bridge construction plan by about four years.

Ryan Bowley, OOIDA director of Legislative Affairs, said that good roads and good schools form key parts of a state’s formula for economic success, “but success is hard to achieve if one part is robbing the other.”

“Just a few short years ago, Oklahoma gave truckers and motorists good news in the form of a long-term commitment to funding for improved roads and bridges,” Bowley said. “It would be disappointing to see a state legislature that so strongly voted in favor of that commitment pass legislation that would toss it away.”

Bowley said Oklahoma would be better served to identify sources of school funds that do not negatively affect highway budgets, or truckers and other road users.

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