The Co-Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday emphasized the importance of adhering to a fair and fiscally responsible approach to transportation funding.
Sen. Jeff Rabon said that while the Legislature must do more to provide for the state’s long-term transportation funding needs, but not at the expense of essential services. Rabon was specifically critical of proposals to divert revenue produced by motor vehicle excise taxes to transportation funding.
“In our rush to correct the problem as quickly as possible, we must be careful in determining which funding mechanisms would best serve the state’s long term goals,” said Rabon, D-Hugo. “Nearly half of all revenue produced by motor vehicle excise taxes goes into the General Revenue Fund each year, and diverting that revenue to transportation compromises our ability to adequately fund education, healthcare and municipal government. I’m confident we can craft a responsible plan without taking funding away from those essential government services.”
Rabon said the Legislature has shown a greater willingness to provide funding for repairs and new construction in recent years, but more work needs to be done. In 2000, the Legislature approved a measure to allow ODOT to issue revenue bonds to pay for immediate projects. That proposal has successfully funded 14 projects to connect rural areas to urban areas with four-lane roads. Last year, the Legislature approved $125 million in one-time funding for bridge repairs. The ROADS (Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety) fund, which provides for annual increases in transportation funding, was established in 2006.
“These were commendable efforts and small steps in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go,” Rabon said. “In our eagerness to get there, we can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. We don’t need a short term band-aid that doesn’t make use of new money, but instead redirects funds from other integral programs in a very tight budget year.”
Rabon noted that motor vehicle excise taxes contributed $259.2 million to the General Revenue Fund in 2007.
“This is not an amount to be taken lightly, and removing it from the General Revenue Fund would trim a significant amount of funding from the current budget,” Rabon said. “With 57 percent of the state’s budget dedicated to education, it’s invariably our schools that would take the hit under this plan. This is not a fiscally responsible approach.”