Doubling Oklahoma's road budget without raising taxes
At a time when you get the impression that all the talk about fiscal restraint is only lip service, this should help restore your faith that some of these politicians really mean it. State Rep. Mark Liotta set out two years ago to find a way to boost state spending on roads and bridges without raising taxes. At long last Liotta's plan is expected to pass as part of the budget plan on the agenda for this week's special legislative session:
Two Years of GOP Road Work More Than Doubles Investment to Fix Crumbling Infrastructure OKLAHOMA CITY (June 19, 2006) – A state budget framework agreed to last week will invest more than $3 billion additional dollars to fix Oklahoma’s crumbling roads and bridges over the next decade – a top priority for House GOP leaders this year.
“This is the most significant improvement in road funding in state history,” said Rep. Mark Liotta (R-Tulsa), the House GOP leader who crafted the Oklahoma’s Road to the Future plan. “Over the last quarter century, our state’s investment in roads has remained flat and our roads have suffered. But in just two short years, the new Republican majority in the House has made roads and bridges a top priority.”
Without a tax increase, the state budget agreement announced last week will expand the state’s annual roads budget from $200 million to $470 million each year when fully implemented. County road money will also double, from $85 million to $170 million every year.
“The most significant aspect to this plan is that we did not tie the money to a list of political projects,” said Liotta. “No specific projects are named. We leave those decisions to our state road professionals who know the needs of the system. We have significantly eliminated the politics in road building.”
The funds accelerate a Republican program to improve Oklahoma’s roads first passed last year. And earlier this year, Republican leaders achieved $125 million for emergency bridge repairs across the state. The new money will come on top of an extra $111.8 million provided for road maintenance and bridge repair during the 2005 legislative session.
Under the Republican plan that is part of the state budget accord, the total amount of new road money guaranteed over the next several years will increase from $170 million to at least $270 million. The plan also includes a $70 million annualization of the debt service on bonds that the Department of Transportation has been forced to pay in the past out of maintenance funds.
All fuel tax dollars from gas and diesel currently funneled into the state’s general revenue will be redirected into a new high priority state bridge fund to address critical bridge projects.
“The taxpayers want to know that their fuel tax dollars are being applied to critical road needs. With this plan we are well on our way to achieving that goal,” Liotta concluded.
Fuel taxes going to pay for roads and bridges; no earmarking or "demonstration projects" (aka pork barrel); more money for maintenance; all without a tax increase. Good news all the way around.
How will the Whirled editorial board, a fervent backer of the failed plan to increase the fuel tax, spin this? Look for the following thought in an upcoming editorial: "That's good, but just think what we could accomplish if only we raised taxes."
UPDATE: I sent a question to Rep. Liotta: Doesn't this just
mean less money in the general fund for tax cuts or other spending priorities?
Here's his response:
Of Course! Road funding has been flat for over 25 years. It has literally remained at around $200 million over that period, which means road funding has been cut every single year. Nearly every other area of state spending has received massive increases over the same period. Concrete, rebar and right-of-way all cost more every year. We have not built a road in Oklahoma with appropriated state dollars in years. They have been built either with federal funds matched with toll road credits, or bond issues (a very expensive method). This has endangered our ability to receive federal matching funds and left critical maintenance undone (again, an expensive way to operate). In fact, if we had not increased road funding last year in my sub-committee, we would no longer be eligible for federal matching by 2009. So yes, I am re-establishing roads as a high priority because they have been neglected for so long, and yes, that means less money to waste on nonsense. It's time somebody stood up for roads and bridges. I know it sounds simplistic but, what good are the best schools, hospitals, and businesses if you can't get there?