Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Capitol Business: SQ 723: Roads, Bridges and Fuel Taxes, Part 1

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Capitol Business: SQ 723: Roads, Bridges and Fuel Taxes, Part 1

Article excerpt

State Question 723, if adopted by the people on Sept. 13, will raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents per gallon and the diesel tax by 8 cents a gallon over the next three years. It amounts to an estimated $150 million annually.

That point is uppermost in the minds of many motorists and the trucking industry. But there is much more to SQ 723 than simply increasing fuel taxes.

In this column and the one for next week I will look at and analyze several other very important aspects of the lengthy proposed amendment to Oklahoma's Constitution.

Its length is one to be considered.

For those academicians and constitutional purists who periodically carp about what they call the unwieldy and complex length of Oklahoma's basic law, this amendment, like the lottery last year, has to be a nightmare. It writes into the constitution language far better left to statutory law that allows for greater flexibility and changes as conditions evolve.

Some may think this is caviling over the primary question, but it is a worthwhile consideration.

What the extensive language would do is restrict the power of the Legislature over one of its fundamental functions. That is writing the state's budget and apportioning revenues in accordance with the laws and its collective judgment as elected representatives of the people.

There is precedent for limiting legislative authority. By adopting State Question 640 more than a decade ago, the people restricted but did not negate the Legislature's ability to raise taxes.

But the circumstances with SQ 723 are different. It constitutionally eliminates legislative power to appropriately budget hundreds of millions of road user tax dollars every year. Through establishment of the Oklahoma Bridge and Highway Trust fund, it constitutionally turns that control over, without legislative oversight, to politically appointed commissioners and bureaucrats, who have no direct responsibility to the voters.

Yet proponents claim they want to take spending the money out of the hands of politicians.

This applies not only to the revenues from the new constitutional tax increases, which cannot be reduced by the Legislature, but also to those from existing motor fuel taxes, which are statutorily levied and apportioned. …

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