Should Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Memorial Highway Signs?
By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Right now, there are 734 signs across the state on highways and interstates, honoring or memorializing Oklahomans.
"It's a very popular thing to do," said Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle. "Since I've been here, I've never seen one turned down, it's just kind of a courtesy deal."
Osborn said she doesn't have a problem with the signs but, she does take issue with who's footing the bill. ODOT spent $38,800 tax dollars on signs just last year. The large ones cost $1,655 to put up and the smaller ones are $400. Maintenance runs on average, $87 to $106 per sign, per year.
"Instead of going to the transportation budget, where they're intended, for crumbling roads and bridges, they go to pay for those signs," Osborn said.
Osborn said she wants the person or group requesting the sign to pay for them instead. When a group asks a lawmaker for a sign, the legislator has to agree and draft a bill. It then must get the approval from the House, Senate and the governor. Osborn has a bill this session, that already passed the House, which requires those requesting a sign to pay ODOT for the costs associated with installation and maintenance.
"I don't think it's asking that much of citizens, if they want to nominate somebody from their community, to have a fundraiser, to have some way to pay for the signage," Osborn said.
ODOT would still have to pay for maintenance of current signs and the bill would not apply to signs approved this year. Plus, there's an exemption for signs honoring military members killed in action. ODOT would spend the money they save, on other things.
"Even though it may be, it may appear small in our budget, every penny does count," said Terri Angier, ODOT spokesperson. "If that money is not spent on those signs, it will definitely be used to maintain the highway system."
Osborn said she expects the bill to save tens of thousands of dollars. She said she believes, in the end, that will make a difference.
"If all 101 state representatives would run a bill like this every year, pretty soon we wouldn't have a budget problem anymore. Sometimes it takes little chipping away to get to the big numbers," Osborn said.