OK suspends transportation projects amid budget concerns
- The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has suspended work on approximately 10 projects amid budget concerns, according to The Oklahoman.
- The Oklahoma Legislature is dealing with an $878 million funding gap and could slash ODOT financing by $251 million.
- The ODOT has delayed awarding nine new contracts and is also studying a list of 80 projects awarded but not yet started in order to come up with potential additional cuts. Officials expect to propose a plan by May 17 to "responsibly" shut down selected projects.
Oklahoma lawmakers have been reluctant to raise the state gas tax in order to increase funding for transportation projects, but ODOT officials said now is the time to seal the deal on a tax hike.
Even the federal government has been resistant to raise its gas tax to increase revenue for the the Highway Trust Fund, which allocates money to the states for their road and bridge projects. In March, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-OR, proposed a penny-per-year increase to the existing federal gas tax of 18.4 cents, which he said could add as much as $17 billion to the HTF.
Similar to the current Oklahoma situation, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shut down all nonessential state transportation projects in July 2016 after Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on how to counterbalance a gas-tax increase elsewhere in the state budget. Construction crews stayed home for three months while lawmakers and the governor tried to hammer out an agreement over a sales tax reduction.
Ultimately, both sides came to an agreement, but by that time contractors had missed the busy summer construction season, which is what gives many highway workers and companies the income necessary to make it through the inactive winter months.
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