Rep. Moore: Streamline transportation funding

EDMOND — Prudent Oklahoma taxpayers would not spend their retirement funds to pay monthly bills, bandaging a temporary need with an irreversible solution. But this improper scenario is underway in the state Legislature with the collection of motor vehicle collections, said state Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Edmond.

Allocations for motor vehicle collections for 2015 total more that $764 million.

“About $534 million a year is not going to roads, highways and bridges,” Moore said.

“That’s roughly 40 percent or something like that. We’ve been doing that for decades and from what I understand, it will take 50 years to catch up.”

Other non-highway uses total more than $43 million for 5.7 percent. School districts receive more than $261.4 million of motor vehicle collections for 34.2 percent of the funding.

The Legislature gets more than $194.5 million, or 25.5 percent of allocations, which go to general revenue purposes. ODOT receives a smaller allocation of $6.9 million for 0.9 percent. Cities and towns are allocated $22.3 million for 2.9 percent. County highways and bridges received more than $235 million for 30.8 percent.

Also, $50 million was transferred from CIRB fund (County Improvements for Roads and Bridges) to the general fund in 2015.

CIRB embodies a carryover provision allowing counties to accumulate funding up to five years for specific projects, Moore said.

This five-year carryover acknowledged the need for advance funding for larger projects—projects that poorer counties couldn’t otherwise accomplish, Moore said. All are used for critical needs across Oklahoma, fixing the worst of the worst infrastructure first, as counties must prioritize and cooperatively apply for funding on a per-project basis, Moore said.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority gets $44 million to help bridge the gap for transportation needs, Moore said. Some people would say it’s a free market to let the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority be in charge of turnpikes, of which Moore does not have a problem, he said.

“The problem is those bond holders are not always Americans,” Moore said. “They’re definitely not Oklahomans and you don’t know all the stuff that’s also paying on it. We have no control with what happens with those turnpikes.”

More said the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority should be under the auspices of ODOT as well as train tracks owned by the state.

Oklahoma ranks first or second in the expanse of turnpikes crossing the state, Moore said. The state is getting ready to add $900 million more in turnpikes. The back-up in that $900 million in bonds is Oklahoma taxpayers, Moore said.

“If we default on that, we pay,” Moore said.

Budget-wise the state does not have all the efficiencies squared away in collections, he added. Moore said it would be wise to put a hold on constructing more turnpikes in the state until investigation determines a course of action.

Gov. Mary Fallin is the only person who can slow down the process at this time because it does not go to a vote of the people, Moore said. The Turnpike Authority has a lot of power, and at the top of leadership is the governor.

“The other thing I’m asking for is to look at stopping the cross-pledging,” Moore said. “Cross-pledging says that no turnpike gets paid off until they’re all paid off. What ODOT will say is we don’t have enough money to take care of the highways, roads and bridges that we have.”

Turnpikes pay for themselves through a fee for service. But Moore said the amount of money for transportation in the state is misleading when considering that $534 million a year in motor vehicle collections is not going to roads, highways and bridges.

The county highway system is composed of 83,552 miles of roadway, 70 percent unpaved (75 percent of the state’s roadway network), and 13,659 bridges (61 percent of all Oklahoma’s bridges). Currently 3,271 bridges (24 percent) are structurally deficient and 496 (3.6 percent) are obsolete, requiring $1.2 billion in replacement costs. The current five-year County Improvements for Roads and Bridges plan includes replacement of 541 county bridges and reconstruction of 1,050 miles of county roads.

In the meantime there are some legislators wanting to add 2.5 cents more to the gas tax, Moore said.

“I’m saying for what? So someone else can spend the money,” he explained.

Government Procurement Solutions wants to add another charge with Real ID that would increase everybody’s fee on drivers licenses by $10 to $15.

“You don’t know where that extra money is going to go. “The average person is not going to know,” Moore said.