By Rep. Mike Sanders
As budget negotiations continue, I am frustrated by the position of some state senators. At the beginning of the year they repeatedly targeted “off-the-top” funding as a major culprit of the shortfall. I did not argue, because “off-the-top” funding is one of several causes for the shortfall. However, now they are advocating for a reduction to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Program fund. This simply is bad policy.
County roads and bridges make up the bulk of our roads and bridges. There has never been a direct state appropriation to help counties make up for all the neglect given to roads and bridges in past decades. For this reason, state lawmakers designated “off-the-top” funding to make sure this core service that affects both public safety and local economies, received adequate monies.
More recently, state lawmakers and Governor Mary Fallin have worked to accelerate the schedule of these projects. We enacted legislation and appropriated money to eliminate all structurally deficient bridges by 2020. Last year, a proposal was made to slow down the plan in order to provide funding to other areas of state government. We soundly rejected that plan. The fund is scheduled to receive $120 million a year for five years. There is currently about $240 million in the fund.
I disagree wholeheartedly with the notion of filling the budget hole with cuts to this fund. I do not want to hear about one of the many school buses across the state collapsing through an unsafe bridge. While it does not surprise me that these urban senators favor other areas of funding, I think it is of the utmost importance that rural legislators like myself protect our county road funding.
Just like health care, education and public safety, transportation funding is a core service. Many items in the state budget benefit the state’s largest cities more than they do our rural communities. Transportation, on the other hand, holds great benefit to our district. Recently, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation released its newest eight-year plan. The plan includes more than $50 million of infrastructure investment in Kingfisher County alone. More than $100 million will be spent on investments in Canadian, Dewey, Blaine and Woodward counties.
We are going to be reaching an agreement on the budget any day now. I strongly urge you to contact your state senators to make sure they push for transportation funding. To contact them, call the Senate main switchboard, (405) 524-0126, and then ask for the particular senator you would like to speak with.