A proposal that would raise the state's fuel taxes to generate funds for road repair would likely be sent to a vote of the people in the next general election, according to Sen. Robert Milacek, R-Enid.
Milacek, who plans to propose legislation this session that would raise fuel taxes gradually over several years, requested an opinion on revenue-raising bills from the office of Attorney General Drew Edmondson earlier this year.
In a letter sent to Milacek on Wednesday, Edmondson and Senior Assistant Attorney General Sandra Rinehart said that a revenue-raising bill could only become law without a vote of the people if it were approved by a three-fourths majority in each house of the legislature.
Otherwise, a revenue-raising proposal must be approved by voters in the next general election after it is passed by a simple majority in the legislature, according to the opinion.
Milacek said the major thrust of the opinion is that revenue-raising measures can only be considered in general elections.
"I asked the attorney general if it would be possible to have a special election on a revenue-raising bill, but that is apparently unconstitutional," Milacek stated.
"If I can get majority support in the legislature, it will be on the 2004 general election ballot."
The attorney general's opinion also stated that revenue-raising measures must originate in the House of Representatives. Milacek said he would file his bill accordingly.
"I'm looking at getting a bill number and a co-author right now in the House," Milacek said.
"My main concern is getting this to the people as soon as possible. We need the money to repair our roads."
Milacek, who will not seek re-election in 2004, proposed a similar fuel tax bill during the 2003 session that died in a joint House-Senate conference committee.
The Republican from Enid said he believes there is mounting evidence that more revenue is needed for state roads and bridges.
"Our road network is deteriorating faster than we can fix it because we don't have the money for essential maintenance," Milacek noted.
"According to some assessments, we have the worst bridges in the nation, and we have school children all over Oklahoma who are riding school buses across these structures every day. As a parent and former teacher, that concerns me deeply."
Milacek added that his proposal, which would raise the taxes for gasoline and diesel fuel to 22 cents per gallon over a period of several years, could generate up to $145 million each year for Oklahoma's road system.
He said that the additional revenue would be dedicated to state road maintenance and would not be used for new projects.
"What we're talking about is maintenance. There will be a provision in this measure to ensure that the money would be used only to maintain our roads and bridges – not to build new ones," Milacek said.
"If this proposal passes, our fuel taxes will still be lower than many of our surrounding states. I think the people can tell it's time to improve our roads, and I want them to have a chance to vote on how we're going to do it."