Oklahoma is closer to getting a handle on its inventory of buildings and properties in order to sell unused and underused properties and could soon have one panel instead of nearly 200 state agencies negotiating building leases and managing building needs.
It's all part of a plan by House Speaker T.W. Shannon for Oklahoma, the single largest owner of buildings, land and leases in the state, to sell its unneeded property and underused buildings. Proceeds would be used to pay for maintenance costs of other state buildings, including repairs to the state Capitol.
Eventually, an eight-year plan — similar to the long-range plans used by the state Transportation Department for road and bridge projects — would be developed to manage the state's buildings and properties. Right now, 163 state agencies handle their own building needs.
“It's time Oklahoma become better stewards of our state assets and the taxpayer's money,” said Shannon, R-Lawton.
“For too long, we have allowed state buildings to decay, neglected to carry out much needed repairs and held on to properties that remain empty and unused.”
The House of Representatives last week passed House Bill 1910, authored by Shannon, which calls for consolidating several infrastructure committees, including the State Capitol Preservation Commission, and redirecting their authority to a new panel, the Long-Range Capital Planning Commission. Other panels being consolidated are the Capitol-Medical Center Improvement and Zoning Commission, the Oklahoma Building Bonds Commission and the State Facility Capital Needs Committee.
The commission will oversee liquidating underused assets identified by a process authorized in a bill by Shannon that was passed and signed into law two years ago. Shannon last year authored legislation, which became law, that created the Maintenance of State Buildings Revolving Fund. Money from the sale of unused and underused properties would be deposited and be available for infrastructure repairs; legislators would also be able to appropriate money into the fund.
“We think this will begin the idea of how we move forward in setting the foundation for an eight-year, pay-as-you-go plan for addressing the state's needs, like the state Capitol,” Shannon said. “We're certainly the only one coming forward with a plan (to repair the Capitol) that doesn't involve bonds, and this lays the foundation for that.”
Shannon said he supports the governor's plan for lawmakers to appropriate $10 million immediately for the Capitol: $8 million to repair the exterior of the Capitol and an additional $2 million to develop a plan to repair and renovate the rest of the building.
Shannon is reluctant for the state to issue bonds to pay for repairs to the nearly 100-year-old building. It's been estimated repairs could cost as much as $160 million.
Under HB 1910, the Long-Range Capital Planning Commission would prepare an annual capital budget plan addressing the state's infrastructure needs over the next eight years.
HB 1910, which passed 66-23, now goes to the Senate.
The state Office of Management and Enterprise Services recently completed a report that highlighted the inefficiencies of Oklahoma's property management model. Right now, 163 agencies manage their own buildings and properties, said John Estus, agency spokesman.
“The state is managing its property right now as if it is actually 163 different entities,” he said. “We're obviously one entity. The speaker's legislation by creating this commission would allow us to make a line item appropriation for all state maintenance needs instead of doling it out among dozens of agencies.
“It's a much easier way to keep track of the money and to keep track of the buildings as well,” Estus said.
The agency has spent the past two years looking into the state's more than 7,900 buildings totaling 76.1 million square feet, 1.2 million acres of land and another 6.6 million square feet of space leased from the private sector.
The cost of operating and maintaining the properties is unknown. The report was finished in December, and the agency is reviewing 146 properties that are considered underused, Estus said.
“We've already identified two or three dozen properties that we believe should be considered for sale by this commission should the bill come into law,” he said. “We're going to be continuing to look at hundreds more properties over these next couple months to try to add to that list with the idea of selling the properties that we don't need and using those state properties that we do need.”
Listed as unused
The list includes the vacant Haskell Building on the Connors State College campus in Muskogee; Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's old laboratory in Oklahoma City, which is being used for storage; the Oklahoma Historical Society's State Capitol Publishing Museum, which is being operated by a nonprofit group; Oklahoma Educational Television Authority's vacant office and studio in Tulsa; and the Veterans Affairs Department's vacant Children's Hospital building in Talihina.
Estus said it's possible more than $10 million could be raised through the sale of unused and underused state properties and buildings.
“It will be significant enough to make some significant improvements to the buildings that we do need,” he said.