Transit Group Plans Crusade over Donor State Taxes

Article excerpt

Transportation, it seems, is a victim of efficiency in Oklahoma.

Efficiency? Yes.

Why is Oklahoma's transportation system so efficient? Because money we pay to the federal government for transportation projects goes to other states, which apparently need more help than we do because their systems are not as efficient.

Every year Oklahoma motorists send millions of dollars to the federal government and get back only a minuscule amount. Our highway system, which most of us decry but probably wouldn't trade for any other, is one of the few Oklahoma transportation segments that gets back even close to its share of federal dollars. For the past two years, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has received about 90 percent of the motor fuel taxes that Oklahomans send to the Federal Highway Administration.

Other segments of state transportation, though, are not so fortunate. Public transportation systems and the aeronautics system are two which are definitely in the donor category.

Yet, needed projects in Oklahoma go lacking because there is not enough money to fund them.

That's a bunch of hogwash, says Stephen F. Lalli, executive director of the Oklahoma Transit Association.

Oklahoma motorists pay $28 million a year to fund public transportation projects in other states, so there should be enough money in federal coffers to help needed projects here, he said.

"When people say the funds are not there, they are just not informed," he said. "Every time a motorist in Oklahoma fills up the car's gas tank, about 30 cents of the bill goes to the Federal Transit Authority (FTA). Of this, we get back about two cents.

"That means we are an extreme donor state in this regard. We're a donor state in highway funding and aviation taxes, too, but not to as great an extent as we are for transit funds."

Oklahoma annually sends $30 million to Washington, D.C., to fund public transportation projects. This results in a return of 6.6 percent of the transit funds Oklahoma sends to the federal government, Lalli said.

"If we're not getting our money back, then the funds are going to other states to fund those public transit projects," Lalli said. "Why can't we get enough money back to fund ours? There's no answer that the money isn't there. It is. The only question is how do we get our share?"

To this end, Lalli is trying to get his association members and elected municipal, county and state officials to join his crusade to set a floor of return for donor state taxes.

"I know and everybody else knows, that we're not going to get back all the money we send in," he said. "So we should have a floor, a minimum amount of money that we get back from the transit fund to help pay for our projects.

"Transit systems are needed as much in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and other communities of the state as they are in New York or California. So why can't we get back our money to spend in Oklahoma instead of sending it all to New York or California?

"We should get a minimum amount from the FTA every year and the remainder of our motor fuel taxes should go to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to pay for roads, streets and highways."

Lalli also is urging private citizens to lobby their elected officials to get behind the project.

One of the problems in the past is that no governor, no major city mayor and no member of Congress from Oklahoma has stood up and demanded a more equitable return on our taxes, Lalli said. …