Monday, August 3, 2009

Dealing With The Federal Bureaucracy

Last week, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn made a point of exposing the horrendous misuse of our gas tax dollars. Each time you buy gas, you pay about 18 cents per gallon which is remitted to the federal government. This money is supposed to be used to build and repair roads. Coburn explained that a third of this money is being used for items such as scenic beautification, bike paths, pedestrian walkways, transportation museums and environmental concerns.

Coburn's testimony matches with what our local officials experience on a regular basis. You can only imagine how frustrating it is for local leaders who are fighting a desperate battle to repair roads to see how money is siphoned off for these superfluous purposes -- while the roads go unfunded.

Not only are our federal tax dollars inappropriately spent, but the funds that are allowed to come back to state and local government for paving roads do so with horrible, bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all controls that handicap local leaders.

An example of this is the upcoming re-pavement of Broadway Road. Logan County received funding for the road in part because it experiences an extremely heavy traffic count (6000 per day) which is wearing away the road surface. However, federal red tape won't let the county use this money to pave the road where the heaviest traffic is located.

A federal rule requires that a road this busy cannot be paved with federal funds unless it is widened and shoulder space is added. The amount of funding does not come close to allowing these types of improvements to occur. This means the road will be repaved farther to the north where the widening is not necessary and the need for re-paving is not nearly as strong.

Because of this federal rule, well-meaning though it may be, the worst part of the road cannot be fixed while the part of the road that is not so needy will receive a very nice repaving job. This means the county must scramble to find a way to fix the heavily traveled part of the road with other funding sources.

Recently, county officials from the central Oklahoma region were called into a training session where they were coached on the rules they should abide by because they receive federal funds (money they took from us through the federal gas tax). An example of one of these rules is a Title VI rule requiring local governments to produce materials in multiple languages. You can only image how infuriating it is for county officials who want to make improvements such as paving roads to be told that instead of doing this, they have to spend money producing their documents in foreign languages.

Another point of contention between federal and county government is the fact that county government is required to produce an environmental impact study for events as simple as the placement of a road sign. What kind of world do we live in when taxpayers have to pay for an environmental study just to put up a sign?

In my view, Oklahoma would be far better off by refusing to participate in this ridiculous system and stop remitting gas tax money to the federal government. Those funds would be used much more efficiently if they were simply sent directly to ODOT and the local governments without the federal filter allowing the federal government to dictate their agenda.

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