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Budget Priorities: Making the Case for Transportation Funding (PRESS RELEASE)

Budget Priorities: Making the Case for Transportation Funding (PRESS RELEASE)

January 26, 2015

Prioritizing Oklahoma’s budget has always been a delicate process, and as government has grown, numerous non-core entities have reduced funding to the core priorities of transportation, education, public safety and health and human services. State leaders have a responsibility to properly fund these priorities, and opinions certainly vary as to whether they are funded to the 100% satisfaction of taxpayers or respective state employees. While there is constant debate as to government priorities, I strongly advocate a modern, safe transportation infrastructure system as chief among them.

The past is important for historical context. From 1985-2005, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s budget was annually standstill. Monies were, at times, dedicated to selected capital improvement projects, however no new revenue was available to address Oklahoma’s structurally-deficient bridges. The result was Oklahoma quickly garnering a reputation as having some of the worst bridges in America. In 2005, when our bridges and many of our roadways were literally crumbling, transportation advocates from across Oklahoma joined forces in support of SQ 723, a fuel tax increase to revitalize our bridges and infrastructure. The proposal’s overwhelming defeat by voters was a true reality check. The lesson learned was that somehow state leaders were going to have to find a method to return transportation funding – after a 20-year absence - as a core priority of state government.

Since 2006, the Oklahoma legislature has transformed its approach to transportation funding. The defeat of SQ 723 shifted the responsibility of reversing years of inadequate funding to the 149 members of the Senate and House. To their credit, the legislature accepted the challenge, and through annual dedicated funding programs, such as the ROADS (Rebuilding Oklahoma Access for Driver Safety) and CIRB (County Improvements for Roads and Bridges) funds, the past eight years have seen a marked transformation in how Oklahoma funds its transportation infrastructure. State and county highways, roads and bridges are in a far better place than they were just five years ago, however the list of sorely-needed projects remains immense.

Today, the fate of Oklahoma’s highways and bridges remain at the hands of decision makers at the state Capitol, and never before in our 107-year history have there been more entities competing for a share of the state budget. 2015 is another critical one for the future of Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure system. The final budget must protect ODOT’s eight-year construction plan, a definitive blueprint proposal to reduce structurally-deficient bridges on the state system to less than 1% by the end of 2019. The proven ROADS and CIRB programs must be allowed to reach their full completion, and as a matter of sound public policy, all transportation-generated revenues should be used strictly for highway and bridge construction and maintenance and not diverted to the general revenue fund. A self-funding transportation system would allow additional revenues to be allocated to education, public safety and health and human services.

I have stated many times that in order for Oklahoma to prosper and be a modern, economically-vibrant, job-creating state, we must safely and efficiently move product to market while providing our residents and visitors with safe roadways and bridges. Legislators of both parties have been tremendous partners in recent years, and Governor Fallin has placed highway and bridge investment as one of her top priorities. Their collective efforts are making a real difference and have Oklahoma on a path to recovery. It is imperative the progress continue, and Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure investment remain a budgetary priority, not just this year but for eternity. The economic vitality of Oklahoma and the safety of our citizens depend on it.

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McCaleb is a former state representative, Secretary of Transportation and director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Today, he is president of Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation (TRUST), an advocacy group dedicated to restoring Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure.



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