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House kills bond issue to repair, renovate Oklahoma Capitol

Concerned that they could be painted as not being fiscal conservatives, Oklahoma House Republicans joined with Democrats Wednesday to crush a $200 million bond issue to repair and restore the state Capitol and repair other buildings in the Capitol complex.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: May 24, 2012
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Concerned that they could be painted as not being fiscal conservatives, House Republicans joined with Democrats Wednesday to crush a $200 million bond issue to repair and restore the state Capitol and repair other buildings in the Capitol complex.

The House of Representatives voted 77-15 to defeat House Bill 3156, which contained the language authorizing the bond issue.

“The problem I have with this is that I'll be voting on something that my kid is going to be paying for,” said Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater. “I'm supposed to be the liberal from Stillwater — tax and spend — and I sound like a fiscal conservative right now, not like the other side of the aisle.”

House Republicans have been squeamish about passing bond issues the past couple years. A Senate panel last year approved bond issues totaling more than $100 million for a building for the Veterans Affairs Department, a laboratory for the state medical examiner's office and to complete the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City, but none of those proposals were considered in the House.

The Capitol bond issue was considered a tough sell, but the overwhelming vote against it surprised its supporters.

“It reflected just how skittish members are about government debt in light of all the debt Congress has racked up in Washington,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, who voted for the bill. “While Oklahoma has managed its debt well, the fact is it's just a tough time to incur any debt given the political climate.

“It's an unfortunate result because these buildings really are in awful shape. It puts a lot of pressure on the next Legislature to act,” said Steele, who is term-limited and couldn't seek re-election. “These buildings won't fix themselves.”

House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Earl Sears, author of HB 3156, said he expected a close vote and was surprised by its overwhelming defeat.

“My colleagues have spoken and it is quite obvious that they are not wanting at this time to send the state into that much debt for the Capitol,” said Sears, R-Bartlesville. “I do not think it is a message or a vote that they do not support refurbishing the Capitol. I think it is a clear message that we need to find another alternative in funding.

“If I bring this initiative up again, it will be to send it to a vote of the people,” he said.

State debt

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, hammered on the fact the state already has about $2.2 billion of tax-supported debt. The state pays about $230 million annually in debt service payments, and Inman listed more than a dozen agencies that could be funded with that amount.

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