Failure on Highway Bill Could Benefit State

Article excerpt

By Bill May Journal Record Staff Reporter If the United States Congress fails to act on pending highway funding legislation, Oklahoma will end up with more money, Oklahoma's transportation director said Tuesday.

While the state would lose federal money if there is no new highway funding bill, Oklahoma would gain in that federal gasoline taxes would no longer be sent to Washington, but would remain in the state, Bobby G. Green said.

"I don't really expect that to happen," he said during a meeting of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission in Oklahoma City. "It would be great if they allowed that money to stay here, but I'm a realist and can't believe that Congress would give up that money.

"I believe there will be an extension (to the current highway funding law), a new bill or at the least a continuing resolution to allow the budget to remain." Motorists now pay 14 cents per gallon federal tax, nine cents of which goes to the federal highway trust fund which provides about 80 percent of the cost of building and maintaining federal and state highways. The other five cents was added in December to help reduce the federal deficit.

Green made his comments during commission discussions about the department's planned $506.38 million budget for fiscal year 1992 which began July 1. The budget, down 2.6 percent from $520.1 million in actual expenditures in the previous fiscal year, passed without dissent.

Although the budget is down, operating expenditures are expected to reach $167.6 million, up 6.1 percent from $157.87 million. The budget also calls for capital, or highway improvement, expenditures to fall to $338.7 million, a 6.4 percent drop from $362.2 million.

These figures could change if Congress changes the formula by which states receive money from the federal highway trust fund. Oklahoma has about $123 million in unobligated federal funds which can be used, Green said. This is about half of the expected $250 million to be received during federal fiscal year 1992 which begins Oct. 1. The state's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 while the federal fiscal year is from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

"The current (highway funding bill) expires Sept. 30, and there seems to be some question as to whether there is enough support to pass an additional 5-cent per gallon tax (to further help reduce the federal deficit)," Green said. …

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