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Plan would increase transportation funds without new taxes

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A plan to reallocate a portion of state motor vehicle taxes will provide $170 million for road and bridge maintenance without raising taxes, state House leaders said Monday.

Republican House Speaker Todd Hiett said the GOP's five-year transportation plan would redirect a portion of the $600 million in motor vehicle tag revenue that is deposited into the state's general fund each year.

About half is dedicated and the rest is spent on a variety of non-transportation related issues, said Rep. Jim Newport, R-Ponca City.

``Funds originally dedicated to road and bridge maintenance have been diverted away,'' said Hiett, R-Kellyville.

``We feel like that's morally wrong. Enough is enough,'' Newport said.

The revenue would be spent on the state's crumbling transportation system, which includes 135 bridges that are more than 80 years old and more than 3,000 miles of highways that are inadequate and need to be rehabilitated or replaced.

``It's been starved. Now we're unstarving it,'' said Rep. Fred Perry, R-Tulsa, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Hiett said the plan will increase transportation funding without a proposed tax increase on gasoline and diesel fuel.

``We will not raise taxes one red cent,'' Newport said.

Meanwhile, an initiative petition to boost fuel taxes and raise an additional $150 million a year for roads and bridges is nearing the end of a protest and appeal period before the state Supreme Court, said Kathy Jekel, director of the Secretary of State's executive legislative division.

Once the period expires, the petition will be forwarded to Gov. Brad Henry, who will schedule a statewide vote of the people.

A citizens group, Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads, organized last year to push for higher fuel taxes after lawmakers killed fuel tax hikes three years in a row.

If voters approve State Question 723, Oklahoma's 17-cent per gallon gasoline tax and 14-cent per gallon diesel tax would increase to 22 cents each, the first increase since 1987.

Gary Ridley, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said the state question contains a constitutional amendment that would dedicate fuel tax revenue to roads and bridges.

He said the House plan recognizes the crisis in transportation funding.

``They certainly recognize that we have a serious problem,'' Ridley said.

The Republican plan was greeted with skepticism by the Democratic leader of the state Senate. Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, said about 70 percent of general fund money is spent on education and health care, areas that would experience funding declines under the GOP plan.

``We would not be interested in doing that type of damage. That's moving the chairs on the Titanic around and doesn't solve any problems,'' Hobson said.

The executive director of the Oklahoma Trucking Association, Dan Case, said he supports the plan.

``That's one of the best ways to do it. You're not going to tax anybody. With the price of fuel right now, we don't need anymore taxes,'' Case said.

The measure, House Bill 1218, is scheduled to be heard Wednesday in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
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