I enjoy sharing the encouraging news about Oklahoma’s significant progress toward funding county roads, upgrading state highways and replacing many of its dilapidated bridges.
Last Thursday, the Washington, D.C., based TRIP group released a report reflecting this encouraging news. Specifically it says, “A decade ago, Oklahoma had significant road, highway and bridge deterioration and high rates of traffic fatalities. But beginning with legislative action in 2005 and continuing through state legislative action as recent as 2013, Oklahoma has undertaken a sustained commitment to upgrade the condition and efficiency of its roads, highways and bridges and to reduce traffic fatalities by modernizing its highway system.”
Since 2006, the new funding for roads has been coming from the already existing motor vehicle taxes that we pay when we renew our car tags. In the past, much of this funding was diverted for other purposes. That’s unfortunately still the case but over the years more and more of this money has been channeled to state and county roads and bridges.
How did these positive changes come about?
In the summer of 2005, Oklahomans were asked to increase gas taxes. We were told that our gas taxes were some of the lowest, and tax increase advocates said this was the reason Oklahoma had such bad roads. They seemed to suggest that our only option for improving roads was to take more of our money and give it to government.
On the surface this appeared to be a convincing argument.
But they didn’t highlight the fact that the same government that would get the additional tax money had for years misdirected motor vehicle revenues away from the roads. Instead, they wanted to reward government with more of our money.
Of course, many of us knew the bad roads were attributable to the government’s failure to properly utilize the money we were already paying them through motor vehicle taxes.
Those who attempt to increase your taxes often try to frame a narrow debate. They want to present the public with an either/or option. In this case, it was either increase taxes or watch Oklahoma’s roads and bridges continue to deteriorate.
Oklahomans knew better and defeated the proposal by an 87 percent to 13 percent margin. This forced Oklahoma’s elected officials to do the right thing, and ever since more and more of the existing motor vehicle revenues are being used to pave state and county roads and build bridges.
A recent version of the state Department of Transportation’s Eight Year Improvement Plan actually declared that by the end of the plan, Oklahoma’s structurally deficient bridges will nearly be eliminated.
Had government gotten more of our money, policy leaders may not have been forced to do the right thing. I believe the motor vehicle revenues would have continued to go to other places besides our roads and bridges.
The voters saw through the tax raisers’ attempts to frame the either/or argument. Had the voters decided to increase taxes, they would have rewarded those who neglected our roads and bridges. Not only would the taxpayer have lost, but ironically so would roads and bridges — because they are now funded with substantially more than would have been generated by the new gas tax.
The wise voter knows that many times politicians, professional bureaucrats, and those who live on the tax dollar attempt to take more of our money by providing the voter with a limited set of information and an either/or option. Those tax advocates count on voters voting emotionally and without enough information.
The next time a politician tries to convince you to vote to raise our taxes, please remember this story.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.