Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin makes push to repair crumbling state Capitol

Oklahoma's governor says it's time for lawmakers to “get serious” and come up with a plan to repair the nearly 100-year-old building.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: January 17, 2013 at 10:21 pm •  Published: January 18, 2013

“The fact of the matter is the Capitol is aging,” said Fallin, who still would support a bond issue. “It has a lot of needs. There are a lot of repairs that need to be done. It's embarrassing to have barricades out in front of the Capitol when we have tourists come or people who are coming here to conduct official business for our state.

“My goal is to bring everybody to the table, to find consensus, to develop a plan and to take care of the needs of the Capitol,” she said. “It's time to do that.”

Lawmakers could pursue a bond issue or appropriate money from growth revenue each year to pay for the work. Some have suggested lawmakers appropriate about $40 million annually for four years; a downside would be making sure the funding is in place for each of the four years.

Another option is to tap the state's savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, which has nearly $600 million. Up to 25 percent of the fund can be used when the governor declares that an emergency exists and two-thirds of the Legislature agrees; 25 percent of the fund now totals about $150 million.

Preston Doerflinger, who serves on Fallin's Cabinet as finance secretary, said the Rainy Day Fund is not the best option.

“I'm inclined to not suggest that,” he said. “There are other mechanisms that we can come up with to fund these repairs.”

Interest rates are low, and it's been estimated a $180 million bond issue could be paid off in 25 years, with the annual debt service projected at $9.9 million.

‘Band-Aid' solution

Doerflinger, who is director of the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said his agency, which is responsible for the Capitol's maintenance costs, is spending more on keeping the building operating. His agency has spent nearly $9 million since 2000 for nonroutine repairs on top of the annual $1.8 million needed to keep the building running.

“Most of our efforts are focused on just keeping the place literally from falling apart,” he said. “It's getting to the point where it is fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable to keep putting Band-Aids on a larger problem. It would be a lot cheaper in the long term to fix all that is wrong with the building instead of continually paying to fix things when they break.”

Duane Mass, the Capitol's architect, said two main priorities are repairing the building's exterior, which could cost $8 million to $10 million, and installing new plumbing. Sewage leaking from the basement into the ground is a health and safety issue for occupants of the building, he said.

“We're had lots of problems with the (sewage) line disintegrating underground,” he said. “We're beginning to have lots of problems with effluent leaching into the ground under the building.”

Fallin, holding a rusty pipe, said, “The question you need to have to ask yourself is would you want to drink water out of this pipe or would you want your children drinking water out of that pipe, and the answer is no.”

Mass said, “This building has done yeoman's work for the state. It has performed admirably for us, and now we just need to give it some good love.”