Gov. Mary Fallin is considering asking lawmakers to appropriate $10 million to start making repairs to the nearly 100-year-old state Capitol, which has had yellow fencing to keep passers-by off the south steps for nearly 18 months.
Fallin said she is open to all options, including a bond issue, but that she has heard the message from many legislators that they prefer using available cash to repair the building’s crumbling facade.
“I just want to get the Capitol fixed and get a plan in hand so that we can address the deteriorating conditions of the state Capitol and remove the barricades from out front and make it a place that we’re proud of,” she told The Oklahoman.
Fallin will present her budget request Monday to lawmakers as they return for the start of the first session of the 54th Legislature.
The governor has been using the bully pulpit of her office to highlight problems with the crumbling building, which has serious plumbing and electrical wiring problems. She led reporters on a tour last month to show some of the problem areas.
A year ago, Fallin asked lawmakers to appropriate $5 million to pay for debt service associated with a bond issue to repair the Capitol; that would have supported a bond issue of about $50 million.
The House of Representatives last year crushed a $200 million proposal that included repairing other buildings in the Capitol complex. It failed 77-15.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said last week that he didn’t believe there was any will in the House to approve a bond issue of any kind. Conservative Republicans oppose increasing the state’s debt, and Democrats oppose most bond issues if Republicans move ahead with another proposal to cut the state’s personal income tax rate.
Fallin didn’t want to give specifics on her budget, but a source close to her office said the governor will ask lawmakers to appropriate $8 million to repair the exterior of the Capitol and another $2 million to develop a plan to repair and renovate the rest of the building.
Preliminary estimates show it would cost $160 million to repair and renovate the structure. Many lawmakers said they would like to see a plan developed that would outline specific problems, a timetable and how to make the repairs without disrupting the work of legislators and other elected officials as well as agencies that are housed there. Renovation and repairs are expected to take four years or more.
It’s been estimated it will cost $5 million to $8 million and take about 10 months to repair the exterior masonry.
Covered scaffolding has been in place since September on the southeast entrance of the Capitol to protect people from falling pieces of limestone. Those entering the building on the southeast side must use the handicapped entrance and walk under the 20-foot-long wood-covered scaffolding. Cautionary fencing also is in place along the south steps of the Capitol.
The precautionary steps were taken after an engineering firm found damage to the building’s exterior limestone panels on the southeast and southwest sides of the building. It’s expected that the damage exists throughout the building.
The Capitol is one of several areas that lawmakers will be asked to provide money for this year. Money or a bond issue again will be sought for a popular culture museum in downtown Tulsa and to help finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in downtown Oklahoma City.
Other familiar issues from last year will be back again for consideration. They include lowering the state’s personal income tax rate, changing the workers’ compensation system and deciding when life begins.
Those and many more are among the 2,378 bills and 77 joint resolutions filed by lawmakers. Usually, about 20 percent of the filed measures make it into law. Last year, the governor acted on about 400 measures.
The session is scheduled to run through the last Friday in May. Lawmakers could adjourn earlier.
Lawmakers will take up more than 20 measures dealing with guns. House Bill 1059, by Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, would allow the carrying of firearms into government meetings but not into governmental buildings that have metal detectors and security officers, such as the Capitol.
Senate Bill 161, by Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, would provide for the manufacturing or assembly of firearms, firearms accessories or ammunition in the state. But the items cannot be sold or taken outside the state. Lawmakers passed a similar measure in 2010, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry because he said it would have exempted those gun buyers from federal criminal background checks and other regulatory safeguards.
SB 548, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, would protect the right of Oklahomans to keep and bear arms by opposing laws and regulations from the federal government intended to take them away. He’s also proposed SB 552 which would allow any Oklahoman at least 21 years old and who is not a felon to keep a handgun in their vehicle for self-defense purposes.
The GOP-controlled Legislature, which has made changes in workers’ compensation a priority since gaining control of both chambers in 2008, will take up a measure proposing an overhaul of the system. HB 1362 by Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Fort Gibson, would change the system from a judicial system to an administrative one.
Another attempt will be made to pass personhood legislation, which holds that individual rights and constitutional protections begin at conception. HB 1029, by Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, is similar to last year’s measure that caused an emotional battle in the House before it failed to get a vote on the floor. Reynolds also last year backed a resolution with the same language, but the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled it was unconstitutional because it would interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion.
Among bids to lower the state’s personal income tax is SB 240, which would replace Oklahoma’s income tax structure with a flat tax of 2.95 percent. House Democrats already have come out in opposition, saying it would lower taxes for the rich while raising them for everyone else.