OKLAHOMA CITY—Oklahoma legislators have drained the state's scrap tire fund, despite worries the account won't have enough money to reimburse tire recyclers. The state legislature passed a bill June 30 transferring $4.3 million from the $4.7 million account to the general fund, and the next day shifted another $300,000. The move leaves many recyclers and environmentalists wondering how Oklahoma will continue to pay its processors to pick up and shred tires, according to Brad Flaming, an environmental specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
The state has three main processors that pick up tires and are reimbursed based on how many tons they shred per month, Flaming said.
The fund was established in 1989 and currently has no sunset date. Its revenues come from a $1 fee on new passenger tires and a $3.50 fee on truck tires.
Although emptying the fund doesn't signal an end to the state's scrap tire program, the amount of money currently being paid to processors is about equal to what tire dealers are collecting, Flaming said.
The state probably still can operate the program for another three to four months, but recyclers are unlikely to receive payments each month, he said.
``I can't say for sure if the fund's going to grow or if it's going to go down,'' Flaming said. ``It's kind of in question right now. I personally don't think there's enough money to run the program.''
The fund's depletion raises concerns that recyclers may refuse to collect scrap tires, causing illegal dumping to increase.
Duncan, Okla.-based Four D Corp. already has threatened to cease collections in protest of the legislature's actions, Flaming said.
``Basically, it's taxation without representation,'' said Max Daughtrey, owner of the Four D. He said his company depends on the state scrap tire fund for reimbursement of recycled tires.
Four D usually takes in 50,000 to 70,000 tires per month at its plant, where they are shredded and sold for other uses, Daughtrey said.
Several dealers also disagreed with the state's decision.
``I do not approve of it,'' said Mary Helen Swanson, president of Swanson's Tire Co. in Oklahoma City. ``I didn't approve of the waste tire fee in the first place because I could never figure out what they were going to do with those tires.''
Ron Smith, president of Colbert Tire Service Inc. in Duncan, echoed those remarks. ``It's a lot like every other surplus that we have anywhere in government.... Every time the representatives find a surplus, they want to spend it somewhere rather than use it for what it's intended. I don't see at this point how they can justify robbing the whole fund and just putting it over in general funds.''
Oklahoma generates about 3.2 million scrap tires each year, Flaming said. About 188,000 remain in dumps.
In Oklahoma, 49 percent of recycled tires are used in civil engineering projects; 34 percent are converted into tire-derived fuel; and 17 percent are used in rubber products such as mats and playground material, Flaming said.
Although Oklahoma isn't the first state to raid its scrap tire fund, its legislature is ignoring the scrap tires the state still has to clean up, according to Michael Blumenthal, executive director of the Scrap Tire Management Council.
``It is unfortunate,'' he said. ``The simple fact that they can't spend the money fast enough doesn't mean that it's there for the taking.''
In recent years, Maryland tapped $4 million from its scrap tire fund for general purposes. Wisconsin, too, killed its tire fund and transferred the revenue to its general fund.
If Oklahoma retained a surplus after completing all its scrap tire projects, tapping the fund for other state expenditures would be fine, Blumenthal said. Otherwise, the state shouldn't have touched the fund.
``This (fund) was specifically legislated for tires,'' he said.