Originally created 10/01/97

Oxendine: Georgia shorted in road-funding program



ATLANTA - Echoing a chorus of Southern politicians, Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine argued Tuesday the state is getting ripped off by the federal road-money allocation system, and he's got the numbers to prove it.

Mr. Oxendine said a survey by his office showed Georgia has been getting back only 75 percent of the federal gasoline taxes that state consumers pay, the second lowest percentage in the country.

Only South Carolina - which has been seeing a 70 percent return on federal gas taxes - is worse off, according to Federal Highway Administration figures.

Meanwhile, many states in the Northeast, such as New York and Connecticut, and others out West like Montana, Washington and the Dakotas are getting more back than their consumers pay.

"Those states are making out like bandits. They are getting much more than what they are paying into the system," Mr. Oxendine said. "A lot of these states are making a profit on this money and they're doing it at the expense of Georgia citizens."

Georgia would receive a minimum of $50 million more each year if the state received its share of money through the U.S. Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991, Mr. Oxendine said.

That money, he said, could be used for state-sponsored driver education, seat-belt usage crackdowns or to reduce state money now spent on road projects.

"There is a direct relationship between what we spend on our roads and insurance. Basically, what we want is safer roads so we can keep insurance premiums down," he said.

"We all buy insurance and we should get value for those insurance dollars. We are not getting value when we are paying higher insurance rates because of accidents, because of injuries, because of roads that could be safer."

Under the 1991 transportation law, each state is supposed to get back at least 90 percent of the federal gas taxes its consumers pay at the pump.

However, the Georgia Board of Transportation and officials throughout the South have been complaining that they are donor states.

Critics say a clause in the law keeps states from getting a smaller share than they have in the past. They say the formula for dispersing the money is antiquated and doesn't consider traffic growth in states like Georgia, Florida and Texas.

Attempts to reach a Federal Highway Administration spokesman in Washington were unsuccessful.

Congress last week put off a decision on a major overhaul of the highway spending program advocated by Senate leaders. One proposal calls for each state to receive a minimum of 95 percent of the federal gas taxes its consumers pay.

According to Federal Highway Administration numbers, no Southern state is getting 95 percent now. Arkansas, the home state of President Clinton, is closest, receiving 94 percent.

Georgians are paying higher state taxes to make up for money they aren't receiving from the federal government, Mr. Oxendine said.

"Is it fair Georgians are paying for safer roads and it's going for safer roads in some other state?" he asked.

Mr. Oxendine said he is writing to members of Congress to seek better treatment for Georgia in federal allocation formulas and will ask state lawmakers next year to adopt a similar resolution.

He asserted that highway safety programs could help lower insurance premiums.

"When a state gets serious about highway safety, rates go down," he said. "What we're concerned about is getting the cost (of insurance) down. You reduce the cost to insurance companies, the money comes back to the citizen."

Georgia's auto insurance rates are "about the average," Mr. Oxendine said.

The commissioner has agreed to more than 50 auto insurance rate increases since taking office in 1995. A Morris News Service study earlier this year showed in more than a dozen cases, top brass at companies receiving rate increases contributed to Mr. Oxendine's campaign war chest.