Gas Tax Hike Could Help Oklahoma Roads

Friday, January 2nd 2009, 7:43 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Every time you put gas in your car in Oklahoma, you're paying about 35 cents a gallon in federal and state fuel taxes. Although that is less than most states, a national transportation group, appointed by Congress, is recommending fuel taxes are increased by at least 10 cents or more.

The gas taxes collected by the government go toward road and bridge maintenance and construction. This transportation group said revenues from gas taxes are not keeping pace with demand.

"In general, the road infrastructure and the bridges in the whole country are in a deteriorated state, because our priorities have been on expanding capacity and expanding the system, rather than taking care of what we already have," Oklahoma Department of Transportation Chief Engineer John Fuller said.

Former Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Neal McCaleb led an unsuccessful campaign three and a half years ago to raise the state fuel tax to fund road and bridge maintenance.

"You know, we're going to have to do something if we want to have good roads. If you believe that there's no free lunch then we're going to have to have revenues from someplace," McCaleb said.

Some different funding options being considered include a mileage tax, where you're taxed based on how many miles you log on the road, or an inflation-based fuel tax, where the tax is a certain percentage of your fuel cost and not a flat rate. Right now, the federal commission is simply recommending increasing the flat tax 10 cents a gallon.

"Ten cents is not bad, but we don't want to keep adding to that 10 cents, like 20 cents and 25 cents," metro resident Alfonso Myers said.

But, that is exactly what could happen if states increase their fuel taxes, as the commission will also recommend. McCaleb doesn't expect either to get done.

"The people that have to do it have to run for office and they're going to make a record, and if that record is for raising taxes, they're going to get killed at the polls," the former state transportation secretary said. "So they're not going to do it, not at the state level, not at the federal level."

McCaleb said what lawmakers could do here in Oklahoma that would make a big difference is mandate that the money collected each year in tag fees go toward roads and bridges, instead of allowing it to be diverted into the general fund, as it currently is. He also said another option would be just increasing the tax on diesel fuel since trucks do far more damage to our roads.

The state tax on diesel fuel is currently three cents less than the tax on regular fuel.