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Tribes donate money to help promote fuel tax increase proposal

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) _ A proposal to increase the state's motor fuels taxes to pay for road and bridge repairs has gained support from a couple of Oklahoma Indian tribes.

Members of the 15-member Cherokee Nation tribal council agreed to contribute $75,001 to help promote the passage of State Question 723, which voters will consider next month.

Tribal councilors acted on a request Thursday from Neal McCaleb, a former assistant secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs who now chairs the group Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads.

McCaleb asked the council in its executive and finance committee meetings for help in buying air time and with other media expenses. McCaleb told councilors that his tribe, the Chickasaw Nation, has donated $75,000 to the same cause. The Cherokees decided to match that amount, plus $1.

Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker said seeking an increase in the motor fuels taxes is a ``hard sell'' because of rising gas prices but that he understands the tribal benefits of backing the measure.

Councilor Jackie Bob Martin said road projects have an added economic impact on any area improvements.

If the state question is approved Sept. 13, the Cherokee Nation could increase its fuel-tax collection by $2 million because the tribe already has a motor-fuels compact with the state. All tribes that have a motor-fuels tax would stand to benefit from the passage of SQ 723, McCaleb said.

The increase would mean higher motor-fuels rebates for tribes that currently compact with the state, he said.

State Question 723 would raise motor fuels taxes to provide county and municipal governments additional money for road and bridge improvements.

The increases would be gradual, with the gasoline tax going up by five cents and the diesel tax going up by eight cents, bringing both to 22 cents per gallon.
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