With many of the state's roads and bridges in dangerous disrepair, the fact is badly needed funding to improve and upgrade the transportation system is simply not available; not unless Oklahomans are given the chance to vote on a fuel tax that would generate millions in federal matching funds. That's according to Senator Robert Milacek, who addressed a public hearing at the State Capitol Thursday.
"We are talking about letting the people decide on a temporary fuel tax that would give us about $140 million in new dollars to our transportation system. This would give us the money we need to repair and replace aging bridges and highways as well as making key investments in railways, aeronautics, public transportation and waterways that are key to our future economic development," said Senator Milacek, R-Enid.
The proposal calls for a vote of the people in 2003 to raise the state's gasoline tax by five cents a gallon and the diesel tax by 8 cents. The increases would be phased in at a rate of two cents a year until the full amount is reached. The tax would revert to the original levels in 2029. Senator Milacek's proposal is nearly identical to one he introduced during the 2002 legislative session, but later withdrew due to a lack of support.
"Last session we were approaching an election cycle, and even though the legislation would ultimately let voters decide the issue, many legislators were concerned their vote on the proposal could be used against them in the fall," explained Milacek. "But the fact is this is too important to our state's future to let it go. We need to make sure every one understands how much Oklahoma would benefit from an investment like this."
"We cannot say we want economic development while we let our infrastructure deteriorate. If we want new businesses to come here, we've got to be competitive in every way and that means having a modern transportation system. Otherwise, those businesses and jobs will simply go someplace else. This is a way of putting our money where our mouth is and making an investment that will pay dividends for decades to come," said Senator Milacek.