Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Foregoing Federal Road Funds Posed

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Foregoing Federal Road Funds Posed

Article excerpt

Despite Oklahoma's growing transportation money problems, the state should consider foregoing some federal help this year, Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb said Wednesday.

Even though the idea of leaving available federal money "on the table is repugnant to me," this might be a dramatic way to illustrate the growing problem of paying for highway maintenance, McCaleb said.

"Since the highway trust fund was established in 1956, we in Oklahoma have done everything we can to provide our match and collect as much of that money as possible," he told the annual press awards meeting of the Oklahoma Good Roads and Streets Association. "We have always dug for every penny we could get, collecting taxes, even digging out what we could find in the couches, to make the match.

"That has been our problem.

"We've borrowed from the maintenance fund, from the state highway fund and others to be able to get all the money coming to us.

"Oklahoma already is a donor state (paying more in fuel taxes that it receives back from the federal government), so if we leave money on the table, that is just compounded.

"But each year, the amount of state funds going to transportation has been shrinking," McCaleb said. "As much as I don't like to say it, perhaps we should consider using some of that state (matching) money for badly needed maintenance.

"The (Oklahoma) Legislature doesn't seem to want to increase our funding, so this could be a way to wake them up.

"They don't want to increase our funding, but at the same time they don't want to see the $10 billion asset of our state highway system deteriorate any further. To maintain this network, we've got to spend the funds."

McCaleb, also director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, renewed his call for more political activity by those interested in improving the state's transportation network.

"I feel that we have not politicized the road-building process enough," he said. "We should let our legislators and congressmen know that transportation is important."

A national survey by the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials showed that transportation was not among the top 50 most pressing issues for congressional action, McCaleb said.

"Yet transportation is basic to economic development," he said. "That survey showed, though, that the need for a good transportation system is not getting the attention it deserves."

The money problem is expected to worsen as the Legislature continues cutting the money it gives to the department. A mid-June United States Supreme Court decision is going to cost the state even more, McCaleb said.

Referring to that decision, he also disputed a report that exempting Indian-owned service stations from the state gasoline tax will cost only a small amount of money.

"For the first six months (of fiscal year 1995 ended June 30), gasoline tax collections were down $645,000 because of that exemption," he said. …

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