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Oklahoma lawmakers' reluctance to use bond issues means needs go unmet
Work done by the Legislature in one session can impact that body in later years, for good or for ill. The use of one-time funds, for example, to pay for a continuing expense will eventually hamstring members who must pay those bills after the one-time funds dry up.
Similarly, when lawmakers choose not to act on an issue, they run the risk of saddling future legislatures with a much bigger and more expensive problem. We fear that will happen over conservative reluctance to consider a bond issue for anything other than repair of the Capitol building.
The Republican caucus in the House of Representatives has been particularly steadfast in its opposition. Speaker Kris Steele has said again and again, most recently last week, that his members have little interest in increasing the state’s bond indebtedness by much. A bond issue to fix the Capitol — price tag $140 million or so — is in play, but “we’re not working on any other proposal at this time,” said Steele, R-Shawnee.
This means the state medical examiner’s office can forget about getting its national accreditation restored any time in the near future. The office lost its accreditation — an embarrassment to the state — in 2009 due in large part to the condition of the building and a poor working environment. The following year, the Legislature approved moving the office to Edmond but provided no funding. Passing a bond issue would go a long way toward solving the problem.
The inaction also means no easing of the $279 million backlog of endowed chairs at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities. The Legislature created the endowed chairs program more than two decades ago, agreeing to make a dollar-for-dollar match of private donations to help our schools attract better faculty. The program worked, but the state struggled to keep its end of the bargain.
In 2008, with the backlog at $125 million, the Legislature decided on a temporary moratorium on matches; a fundraising blitz by schools to get in ahead of the moratorium pushed the backlog to $365 million.
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