A plan to authorize a $160 million bond issue to repair Oklahoma’s nearly 100-year-old state Capitol moved closer to final passage Wednesday when it was approved by the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
Committee members voted 16-8 for the Senate-passed measure and sent it to the full House for a vote in spite of resistance from some members over whether a bond issue is the best way to pay for the project.
Former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, was a vocal critic of a bond issue, but newly elected Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, has said he’s open to discussing the idea with his caucus.
“I think it’s time to get this project going,” said Rep. Skye McNeil, R-Bristow, who authored the House’s version of the bill. The Senate previously passed it.
Oklahoma’s Capitol opened in 1917 but years of deferred maintenance have contributed to many problems. For example, parts of the 400,000-square-foot building have been cordoned off by yellow barricades since 2011 to prevent pedestrians from approaching the building’s south side, where chunks of limestone and mortar have been falling from the building’s facade.
One of the state’s most visited tourist attractions, the Capitol’s interior features polished marble floors, valuable artwork and a dome that was added in 2002. But behind the walls are major problems that include a plumbing system with rotting pipes that has never been completely restored and a hodgepodge of electrical systems.
Committee members said the estimate for repairing the Capitol was about $120 million when the project was first discussed three years ago. McNeil said that estimate did not include the cost of relocating state government offices while the project, which could last up to four years, is underway.
McNeil said debt service and principal payments for a $160 million bond issue over 25 years would be $249 million.