Wed Sep 15, 9:34 PM ET

Group Launches Petition For Gas Tax Increase

  Former Oklahoma transportation chief Neal McCaleb helped launch a petition
drive Wednesday calling for a five-cent increase in the state gasoline tax and
an eight-cent increase in the diesel tax.

The petition drive, to be led by the Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads
Association and various business groups, would raise $150 million, which McCaleb
said would be placed in a trust fund out of legislative control.

McCaleb, former state transportation secretary and U.S. assistant secretary
for Indian Affairs, said the money is critically needed to repair substandard
roads and bridges.

"We are in a crisis," he said. "One-fourth of our roads are in critical
condition, meaning traffic accidents are 56 percent more likely to occur on these
roads. Our state also leads the nation with bridges in dire need of repair or
replacement. This is unacceptable and the problem must be dealt with."

The proposed constitutional amendment would raise state fuel taxes to 22
cents a gallon. Oklahoma now has the lowest fuel user fees in the eight-state
region at 14 cents for diesel and 17 cents for unleaded gas.

Petition sponsors will have until Dec. 15 to collect 155,000 valid signatures
on initiative petitions.

McCaleb said Oklahoma's transportation system had been underfunded for 80

Officials from chambers of commerce in Tulsa and Oklahoma City pledged their

"Having well-paved roads and bridges that are safe to drive on is a must for
economic development and interstate commerce," said Bob Poe, chairman of the
Tulsa Metro Chamber. "Right now, we simply do not have the money to meet these
fundamental needs."

If the group is successful in collecting required signatures, Gov. Brad Henry
will have the option of calling a special session on the issue.