AT last, some capital for the Capitol. O what a relief it is!
Lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin have found a way to fund capital improvements for the state Capitol. It's not the best way — that would have been a bond issue — but it's a way nevertheless. At some point the safety barricades can come down, just probably not soon enough to put on the best face for the officials who'll visit in July for the National Lieutenant Governors Association's annual meeting.
Fallin has signed a bill to start a Capitol upgrade, part of a national wave of capital improvements involving state capitols. Oklahoma isn't alone in dragging its feet on overdue repairs. Stateline.org reports that Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wyoming are in the same leaky-roofed boat.
Oklahoma's Capitol idea involves yet another state board that will oversee repairs of the statehouse and other state-owned properties, using a pay-as-you-go plan to avoid bonded indebtedness. This could slow the process, but we're happy that years of procrastination are coming to an end. In January, Fallin led a tour of the building, pointing out collapsed sewage lines and oversized insects that apparently like the Capitol basement the way it is — crumbling, moldy and moist. Human visitors are less than impressed. The joke is that hard hats might soon be as mandatory as the metal-detecting security scans.
First up for the Capitol are exterior repairs worth an estimated $8 million. Perhaps this can start by the time the lieutenant governors arrive and the visitors will see the barricades as construction devices rather than safety blockades.
Fixing the Capitol will be expensive, which is one reason a bond issue made sense. This is especially true now because the cost of borrowing is relatively low. Capital improvements for capitols is pricey. Kansas is spending $332 million over 12 years — more than any other state — to restore the capitol in Topeka.
Other states in which capitol upgrades are underway or have recently been completed include Illinois, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennesee, Virginia and Wisconsin. This “little-noticed capitol renovation boom,” as Stateline.org puts it, involves hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowed or appropriated money.
Virginia's capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, was used as a location for Steven Spielberg's 2012 release “Lincoln.” Oklahoma's Capitol, designed by Solomon Layton, could be used as a set for a disaster movie. Those who work inside its walls are the very ones who have been reluctant to touch their capital to fix the Capitol. The Sooner State took a Later (Maybe) State approach to restoring the people's building.
The People (capital P intended) should rejoice.