WASHINGTON — Oklahoma could lose up to $80 million in highway money later this summer because of an anticipated shortfall in the federal Highway Trust Fund, Sen. Jim Inhofe said Tuesday. The loss, which could range from $50 million to $80 million, would mean the state Transportation Department would have to cancel or delay projects that have been in the pipeline for years. The Highway Trust Fund, which gets money from the federal gas tax, has been hit hard by a reduction in the amount of gas purchased by American motorists. Congress had to pump $8 billion into the fund last fall to keep it solvent. At a hearing Tuesday of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairman of the committee, said the fund may need $5 billion to $7 billion in August to keep commitments made by the 2005 highway bill.
Separate from stimulusOklahoma is expected to get about $465 million in the next two years for road and bridge projects from the $787 billion stimulus bill passed earlier this year. But that’s separate from the regular funding the state Transportation Department gets from federal Highway Trust Fund receipts, which are allocated among the states based on a formula. Inhofe said Gary Ridley, state Transportation Department director, told him that the state would be forced to "deprogram” up to $80 million in projects if the trust fund shortfall isn’t fixed. "This will be done by cancelling new projects and existing contracts that have already been signed, in addition to slowing down projects that have already broken ground,” Inhofe said. "Clearly this would have a detrimental effect on the economy and will negate any gains made by the stimulus — which as I’ve said before, dramatically underinvested in infrastructure.”
Inhofe rejects tax hikeSenators on the committee said the trust fund posed a long-term problem for the nation’s roads and bridges that needs to be addressed sometime this year when a new highway bill is written. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said the federal gas tax would have to be increased so funding could keep pace with the nation’s need for road improvements. But Inhofe, R-Tulsa, told reporters that he wouldn’t agree to a tax increase. He acknowledged that the gas tax, at its current level, won’t generate enough money to pay for the next highway bill. But he added that the administration should instead shift some of the new money it is planning to spend on social programs to transportation.