NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
As HL Mencken opined, people often, when faced with a complex, controversial and difficult problem, develop an easy, simple and wrong answer. Hoping to avoid the ‘wrong’ part of Mencken’s admonition, let me suggest the following to fix our roads and bridges permanently, more quickly, and WITHOUT an increase in gasoline or diesel fuel assessments.
The only real answer to our ever-crumbling infrastructure system, most recently highlighted by the closure of the James C. Nance bridge between Lexington and Purcell, is to provide Oklahoma’s Department of Transportation with dramatically more financial assets — hard dollars. The question is, how, without a fuel tax increase?
The governor and legislature must address the fact that the severance tax on oil and gas will go up from the current one percent to seven percent not later than 2015 automatically if our solons do nothing.
Therefore, they will do something. I suggest, as our leaders grapple with this complex issue, they should earmark one percent of whatever percent increase agreed upon, to ODOT, which will more than double the resources available to this well-led but perennially underfunded agency. One percent of severance equals about $850 million, and although that sounds like a lot of money, and is, a new Lexington-Purcell bridge alone will cost at least $45 million ... and there are currently over 600 deficient bridges statewide.
Even with this small severance tax increase, Oklahoma will remain, by far, the most attractive place to drill for oil and gas in the entire country since we would still have the lowest severance tax.
Energy truck drivers, as well as the general public, deserve a safe, efficient arterial network of roads and bridges. Such a new and improved system will enhance economic development in all 77 counties and will be financed by a long-lived but finite resource. And, since the majority of the oil and gas produced in Oklahoma is consumed in other states, those individuals and companies so located will pay for much of our new road and bridge enhancements.
And well they should, just as Okies pay the taxes imposed on Maine lobsters, or California peaches, or Silicon computer chips, or Montana coal, which has a staggering 20 percent severance.
This idea makes fiscal, economic and common sense.
It thinks longterm, addresses a real crisis, and can be implemented immediately by a simple majority vote by our legislators.
Speaking of our elected officials, if any one of them has a better idea, I’m anxious to hear it. If not, give mine a shot. The worst that can happen to you is you’ll lose a vote in committee.
The best may be you’ll become a statewide hero. Pretty good trade, it seems to me.
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