When Oklahomans think of county government, they probably think of these two things: the county commissioner scandal of early 1980s or road improvement.
For many years, the commissioner scandal – sometimes called Okscam – affected how much Oklahoma residents trusted their local government, especially because the scandal was and is the biggest corruption scandal in American politics according to the FBI.
Each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties has three commissioners and commissioners from 60 counties were charged with federal crimes. Of the 231 total commissioners, 110 were convicted of federal crimes including accepting kickbacks for equipment purchased at 100 percent over cost.
An additional 220 contractors were also convicted for participating in the scheme. Investigation of the scandal ended in 1984 but it still lives in the minds of older voters. As a result of the scandal, power was centralized more to the state level of government and away from the county, and commissioners were required to follow state requirements when making purchases. Basically, as commissioners’ duties have expanded, their powers have retracted.
According to information provided by Commissioner Justin Roberts, there are 898 miles of road in Pontotoc County. Maintaining all the roads and bridges in the county is tremendously difficult and costly.
Money for roads comes from gas and diesel taxes, motor vehicle collections, and a small portion of the gross production taxes collected by the state. Gross production taxes are distributed among counties based on the previous year’s production so some counties don’t share in this money.
When you purchase regular gas for your car, consider the 16 cents per gallon tax collected by the state. County governments receive 4.9 percent of this money. The gas tax is a good example of a tax where state revenues are tied to use. When people drive more, they buy more gas. The additional tax can go right back into county roads to make up for the increased wear and tear. In FY 2010 the State of Oklahoma collected almost $300 million in gasoline taxes and shared $92 million with counties.