Counties Worry State Will Dip Into Road Project Fund To Balance Budget

Monday, May 11th 2015, 7:39 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Many of Oklahoma's county commissioners are worried about the legislature taking money away from road building to balance the state budget. The move would delay projects that counties are planning.

Bridges are built by county governments, sometimes using tax money saved up over several years. Because it's money in the bank, projects go faster and cost less.

It's not the biggest road repair because of flooding, but for Creek County it's a major job and a big expense.

Creek County doesn't have money to spare for unexpected road projects, but they'll have to spend it anyway, according to Creek County Commissioner, Rick Stewart.

"We've seen everything from roads washed out to tinhorns being washed out all over the county because of the ground being saturated and larger trees just falling over," he said.

Stewart shares the concern about the legislature dipping into a savings account that counties use for major projects.

Some counties will use the money to rebuild roads and bridges damaged by flooding, but if the legislature takes away the money, everything from emergency work to long-term projects could be delayed.

"We've got several projects on the eight-year plan, and if that fund is raided, it would cripple those projects from going through," Stewart said.

It's not just smaller counties; in Tulsa County, commissioners worry the legislature will take away part of the funding they've used for major projects and to help coordinate projects that cross county lines.

The fund has $250 million in it and the legislature might withdraw $100 million.

Tulsa County Deputy Commissioner, Mark Liotta said, “We really ask the legislators to look elsewhere for dollars to fill that hole."

Ten years ago, Liotta, a former state representative, helped create the savings account that's now under attack.

"If a large project is ready to go and those dollars are taken, that reshuffles the deck and the counties that have planned a project, they don't know if they can forward or not," he said.

Just three years ago, Governor Mary Fallin was asking for more money to be put into the county road fund; that was before the state's budget collapsed into the massive shortfall lawmakers are now trying to fill.