OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A day after voters overwhelmingly rejected a fuel tax increase to fix deteriorating roads and bridges, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday proposed a way to beef up highway funding without raising revenue.

The plan would increase from $170 million to $200 million the amount of new highway money committed by the 2005 Legislature, raise $85 million to $100 million for county bridge and road work and use $100 million in one-time surplus funds to repair more than 50 of the state’s worst bridges.

House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, said the message from Tuesday’s election was clear — that voters want highway maintenance funded out of existing resources.

“Yesterday, the people said: “Not one more dime of my money; fix Oklahoma’s roads with the dollars you already take from us,” Hiett said. “We all agree that Oklahoma’s roads are in bad shape. But the voters expect us to live within our means.”

About 87 percent of Oklahoma voters rejected increasing the gasoline tax by a nickel a gallon and the diesel tax by eight cents. The plan would have raised $150 million a year for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Republican lawmakers said their plan will raise even more, although much of the funding is contingent on the state economy continuing to expand.

“This plan we are unveiling today confirms the Republican commitment to improving our roads and bridges — without a tax increase,” said Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, Senate Republican leader.

The extra road funds for counties would be raised by increasing from 15 percent to 30 percent the money counties now receive from motor vehicle registration fees. Much of those funds now go to education.

Rep. Jim Newport, R-Ponca City, said that because of a bulging state revenue surplus, school funding will not be harmed. He said the state’s growth revenue would easily pay for the road funding increases.

“Our children cross county roads and bridges every day on the school bus,” Newport said. “Unfortunately, some of the worst bridges in Oklahoma are county bridges and we have to address this safety issue immediately.”

No decision has been made on whether to tap the Rainy Day fund for the $100 million in emergency state bridge repairs or to use other revenue.

“This appropriation will take care of more than 50 of the worst of the worst bridges statewide,” said Rep. Mark Liotta, R-Tulsa. “We will direct ODOT to identify and focus on the bridges carrying the most traffic that have the lowest safety ranking.”

Democratic legislative leaders were cool toward the announcement.

“Nobody is more committed to increasing funding for the maintenance and repair of Oklahoma’s deplorable roads and bridges than Senate Democrats,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater. “We look forward to seeing the details of the GOP proposal, because what they presented this morning was a promise and not a plan.”

Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, House minority leader, faulted Republicans for making funding promises before it is known how much revenue lawmakers will have to appropriate, while at the same time proposing “tax cuts for the wealthy.” Hiett and other GOP leaders recently said they would push for elimination of the estate tax next session.


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