Tulsa World: State Gains in Road Funding
August 9, 2010
Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov
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State gains in road funding
by JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Saturday, August 07, 2010
WASHINGTON - Oklahoma not only lost its much-dreaded donor status on federal road funds, but, according to a newly released report, the state is receiving up to $1.29 for every $1 it sends to the Highway Trust Fund.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a major player in Congress on transportation issues, credited that dramatic turnaround on the massive law he helped craft, as well as so-called earmarks.
"I think that makes up for what we didn't get in the past,'' the Oklahoma Republican said Friday, recalling the state's donor status that lasted roughly a half-century.
"My feelings were we went for decades not getting what we should get.''
According to one state official's past calculation, the trust fund owes Oklahoma about $1 billion.
Inhofe also recalled his own statement years ago when he took over as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where he now serves as the top Republican, that "we would do a better job for Oklahoma'' and end the donor status that state officials have chafed over for years.
He also used an interview on the recently released Government Accountability Office report to discuss his ongoing disagreement with those in his own party over earmarks.
"You know how upset I've been with the members of the House over this whole earmark thing,'' Inhofe said, referring to the earmark moratorium that House Republicans agreed to earlier.
He said those who keep "trying to beat the earmark drum'' only make it more difficult to ensure federal funds for appropriate Oklahoma projects.
"I'm kind of doing it alone,'' Inhofe said before noting that Rep. Dan Boren, Oklahoma's lone Democrat in Congress, also has requested funds for projects in his district.
Inhofe pointed to the widening project for Interstate 44 in Tulsa, one of the state's largest road projects that was pushed along with earmarked funds.
According to his office, that project alone has received $110 million and more should be provided under the law's temporary extension.
"It doesn't cost a cent more,'' he said in response to Republican critics who cite earmarks when debating budget and spending issues.
In a bit of a twist, the GAO report concluded that under current law every state has been receiving as much or more money for highway programs than it generated for the trust fund, which, the study pointed out, was augmented with general revenues.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, used the report to say the focus should be less on the donor and donee debate and more on needs of a national system.
Inhofe defended the current approach.
"I think that's one of the few things government does right,'' he said, adding, however, lawmakers are facing a serious challenge in finding a way to keep the entire program funded in the future.
Inhofe noted the trust fund keeps losing ground with present funding driven by fuel taxes.