CimPetition proposes incremental rise of fuel user fees to care for highways
A new petition being circulated calls for an Article to be added to Oklahoma's Constitution. The Article would allow an increase in user fees on gasoline and diesel and fixed percentages of those increases to be paid into a fund to be established as the “Oklahoma Bridge and Highway Trust Fund.”
The fund, according to a group calling themselves “Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads” would be used solely for the direct cost of “...the building, construction and reconstruction of the state's bridges and highways.”
The petition, when completed, would, according to its wording, require the governor to submit Article XVI-A to Oklahoma's voters on Nov. 7, 2006, (or sooner by special election).
If passed, the Article would allow an incremental increase of eight cents per gallon on diesel and five cents per gallon on unleaded gasoline over several years. This would, according to the group's facts, bring user fees to .22 cents on both diesel and unleaded fuels. (A rise from .14 cents for diesel and .17 cents for gasoline.)
The informational fact sheet accompanying the petition informs the reader that Oklahoma has 12,266 miles of highways, with nearly half designated as fair, mediocre or poor, when measured for roughness. The fact sheet continues that the national average is 35 percent and that more than 25 percent of the state's highways are rated as inadequate or poor and that 33 percent of all driving surfaces are in poor condition.
The fact sheet then stressed that roads in such conditions are 56 percent more likely to cause traffic accidents. The information also makes the claim that 1,116 bridges in the state are in dire need of repair with 481 needing to be completely replaced.
The “Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads” stress that for the last three sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature, they (the legislators) have failed to act.
The state of Oklahoma, ( claim the “Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads”) is the only state that uses no state funds for highway construction), they want the issue placed before the voters who use those highways.
The Boise City News contacted State Representative Gus Blackwell by e-mail to confirm or deny the allegations made in the informational fact sheet.
Blackwell confirmed that: ODOT has had the same amount of money allocated for road repairs, (approximately $125 million) for the last 10 or fifteen years. During that time, the state's budget has risen to somewhere between $3 and $5.4 billion.
Blackwell continued that all new highway construction in Oklahoma has come from Federal funds with supposed matching state funds of 80-20. Blackwell points out that the matching funds are mostly soft money, but that since most of the construction has been done from bonds over the last three years, that figure will rise from $20 million last year to about $69 million in 2005. This means the state will be forced to raise the amount of its matching funds to be able to qualify for the Federal funds.
Blackwell added that: “Technically I think that we do spend a small amount of actual state money on new highway construction. Actually though this is probably just a minuscule amount compared to most other states.”
In addition, Blackwell wrote, “The truth is that ODOT has been systematically shortchanged in dollars for both new construction and road maintenance. During the last two state employee raises, each department was given money specifically for the raise except ODOT. They had to take the money out of the maintenance budget.”
Copies of the fact sheet and the petitions which accompany them may be seen in businesses throughout Cimarron County.
Boise City News