State Senate Budget Breakdown (FOURTH)

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a sequence of ‘budget breakdown’ articles from Senator Roger Thompson of Okemah. A Republican, he is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. This article is focused on expenditures in the transportation area.

Oklahoma City — Here in Oklahoma, one of the main topics of conversation is the weather, but I’d say transportation is right after that.

People want to know when a road they rely on is going to be repaired, or how long before all the darn road construction is finally done.

In this installment of “Budget Break Down,” we’re looking at transportation funding in Oklahoma.

First, I want to say that Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz and the folks at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) do a great job. We also need to acknowledge that like many other businesses, they’re working under unusual circumstances due to ongoing supply chain issues.

Currently, they’re running behind on some 20 percent of their projects because of those supply chain problems. There’s a project in my own Senate District 8 that’s been impacted by an asphalt plant that was shut down.

It’s just a reality that is impacting both public and private sectors right now, so it’s important we take those factors into account.

When we look at funding for our roads in Oklahoma, including federal resources, we’re talking about a little over $1.7 billion. That’s a lot of money, and I believe we’re getting the most value we can for our dollars.

Looking at the state budget and what we put into it, this year there was about a 2.8 percent increase in the budget. For years, we’ve funded ODOT’s Eight-Year Construction Plan off-the-top.

In other words, those dollars were earmarked so that it wasn’t reflected in the budget as other appropriations were. The last couple of years, we began to show that through the budget process to increase transparency.

This year, we’ve taken that number from $575 million to $590 million. There are additional state appropriations beyond the off-the-top dollars set aside for the Eight-Year program, bringing our total state dollars for Fiscal Year 2023 to more than $783.8 million for ODOT, which is a great investment in Oklahoma.

Our county roads and bridges are of tremendous importance to rural Oklahoma. We’ve been putting $120 million a year of state money into county roads and bridges, but this year we passed legislation to add $5 million a year for the next six years, ultimately increasing those funds to $150 million annually.

It’s a great program involving our county commissioners and ODOT to improve our transportation system in rural Oklahoma, something that’s important to our entire state as that is where much of the food all of us consume is grown.

There are other transportation issues of special concern to rural Oklahoma as well. In our metro areas, like Oklahoma City and Tulsa, personal transportation options include buses and street cars.

In rural Oklahoma, we work through some of the community action agencies to provide transportation services. This year, we added $5 million for such programs, for a total of $10.75 million.

Those community action agencies are able to leverage that with federal funds to purchase busses and other vehicles to get people where they need to go, such as doctors’ appointments, work, and the grocery store for a small fare.

Transportation is an important core function of government, but as population and transportation needs increase and technology changes, we face additional challenges.

Today, we’re largely funding transportation through fuel taxes – fossil fuels, to be exact. But as more electric vehicles hit the road, the question is going to be how we can continue to fund our transportation infrastructure in the future.

Many of the vehicles that will soon be on our roadways include autonomous vehicles, like self-driving trucks that will add to the wear and tear of our roads. We will meet those challenges and keep transportation in Oklahoma moving forward.