Because the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is currently running a large surplus, Governor Keating should direct his appointees to lower tolls on Oklahoma turnpikes, according to a state legislator.
"Apparently the tolls are too high. Otherwise the turnpike authority wouldn't be pulling in so much surplus money," said Senator Bruce Price, who has been a vocal critic of recent plans for turnpike expansions and toll increases.
"I know my constituents around Chickasha feel like they've been gouged pretty bad on toll rates the past few years and this latest information appears to confirm their complaints.
"The only fair thing to do is to cut toll rates to reflect the real needs of the turnpike system. Oklahoma motorists shouldn't be paying a penny more than necessary, but apparently, that's what they're doing right now."
The Hinton legislator was responding to a report released last week that detailed the amount of surplus funds held by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. According to that report, the OTA's total surplus currently stands at $62 million. By 1998, the surplus will climb to $94 million. By 2000, it will stand at $137 million.
"The OTA isn't supposed to be in this business to make a profit. If it's pulling in a surplus, and it is, tolls are too high. It looks like Oklahoma motorists are being forced to pay more than their fair share, and that's not right," said Senator Price.
The OTA is currently generating more money than it needs to cover maintenance required under its bond agreement. The amount of surplus revenue has increased dramatically since the OTA approved toll hikes in the early 1990's, including a substantial increase on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike.
"I think the OTA overstepped its authority and enacted toll hikes that were larger than necessary. They need to roll them back and give motorists a fair shake," said Senator Price.
Traditionally, such surplus funding has been reserved for emergency purposes, but since 1995, the OTA has been spending the money on additional projects not required by its current bond agreement. One such project, according to the OTA, is for safety medians on some turnpikes.
"According to the OTA's own books, it will still have a good chunk of surplus money left over after the median work is completed. Based on their numbers, it looks like we can have safe turnpikes and lower tolls," said Senator Price.
"The surplus is so large there are a lot of options on the table."
Senator Price is vice-chairman of an interim committee currently studying the OTA and Governor Keating's turnpike expansion and toll increase program.
"Everybody keeps talking about cutting taxes. Even Governor Keating has said that tolls are the same as taxes. What's wrong with cutting toll rates? It's the same as a tax cut in my book," said Senator Price.
"In light of the latest revelations, it's certainly something we need to explore."