Even though the main part of the legislative session begins in February and ends in May, legislators continue to work on the budget and issues of importance to the state throughout the year.
The time in between the end of one session and the start of the next is called the interim, and during this time period, particularly in the late summer and early fall, our committees meet in order to hold interim studies. These interim studies give us an opportunity to take a deep dive into complex issues we’d never have time to study during the compact schedule of the legislative session. The hearings are sometimes strictly informational, aimed at bringing members of the legislature and others up to speed on a particular issue, or examine whether a particular concern could possibly be addressed through legislation.
This summer, I requested an interim study to help provide a detailed look at the very complex issue of county funding for roads and bridges, and in particular, the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Fund. My interim study was held at the Capitol this past week.
I want to thank Sen. Roger Thompson, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for agreeing to hear my study. I also want to thank everyone who joined us to make presentations, including State Auditor and Inspector, Cindy Byrd; former Representative Mark Liotta, who originally authored the legislation creating the CIRB program; Tim Gatz, Secretary of Transportation and director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation; Randy Robinson, executive director of the Oklahoma Cooperative Circuit Engineering Districts Board; and many county commissioners from here in this district and throughout the state.
I want to express my deep thanks to our county commissioners who have the difficult task of maintaining about 75 percent of our state roadways with limited resources. They face the same challenge all in government face when providing services to our citizens—there will always be a greater need than available funding.
I think the biggest takeaway from this study was that the Legislature always needs to be looking for better, more effective ways to address the needs of our citizens. The CIRB fund and related programs are 15 years old now, and it’s time to take a deep dive into their effectiveness. We need to ask if there is a better way to more effectively utilize the dollars we have, and how we get those dollars from the CIRB fund to the county commissioners.
Secretary Gatz has been very successful with the administration of the roads funding and the eight year improvement plan for our state highways. I know with his leadership we can improve on the county road and bridge funding under the five year program. I also liked what he had to say about improving communication between ODOT and the county commissioners.
During the hearing, Secretary Gatz shared CIRB program results from fiscal year 2008 through May 2020, noting that a total of 777 construction projects had been addressed, including 609 bridges that have been replaced or rebuilt, 609 miles of roadway improved, and that the total construction dollars involving CIRB funds was more than $1.9 billion. These are projects that the counties would never have been able to undertake without the CIRB program, but we know there is more to be done.
I hope to use what we learned from this interim study and make it the beginning of an ongoing dialogue as we further discuss what is working well with the current programs, what could be improved, and how best to implement those improvements.
Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to be your voice in the Oklahoma Senate. Please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at Chuck.Hall@oksenate.gov.