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Oklahoma Senate withdraws gas tax plan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma voters will probably not get a chance to vote on a measure to increase the gasoline tax to pay for highway repairs.

Sen. Robert Milacek withdrew his bill to put the issue on the ballot.

``The reality is this is an election year,'' the Waukomis Republican said Tuesday. ``Many lawmakers were concerned their support could hurt them at the polls.''

His proposal called for the gasoline tax to be raised to 31 cents per gallon from 16 cents to replace declining federal highway funds. If approved by voters, it would have raised $139 million a year for transportation projects.

It called for an increase in the diesel tax from 13 to 20 cents a gallon. The tax increase would expire in 2029.

Milacek's announced came a day after Gary Ridley, state transportation director, said many projects in the state's five-year road construction plan might have to be postponed because Oklahoma will be short millions of dollars in federal funds.

The state's shortfall will total $520 million by 2007, the way things stand now, Ridley said.

Officials say a drop in federal dollars will likely extend from 10 to 15 years the payoff time on Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds used to finance some major road projects.

Last month, a measure similar to Milacek's died in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

State Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, R-Edmond, did not get a second on his bill calling for a referendum on raising the gasoline tax to 18 cents per gallon and the diesel tax to 15 cents per gallon.

Gas tax supporters say Oklahoma highways are in dire need of funds for increased maintenance. They say the state has one of the lowest gasoline taxes in the region.

``Our transportation system, including our highways, railways, aeronautics, public transportation and waterways, are critical to our future economic development and population growth,'' Milacek said.

He said he would ask Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor to order an interim study on his proposal.

``Hopefully, once the election cycle is behind us and we can clearly present the benefits this will bring to Oklahoma's economy, we'll be in a much better position to get this proposal to the public.''
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