REPUBLICANS in the Oklahoma House of Representatives who consider the use of bond issues to be awful public policy will apparently be joined again next session by Democrats. This is interesting because when their party ran things, Democrats were never bashful about pursuing and approving bond issues.
In those days, Democrats seemed to understand that paying for and maintaining infrastructure with bond issues was a responsible use of taxpayer money. Bonds allow states to raise the amount of money needed to pay for those repairs or upgrades, and to borrow the money at affordable interest rates.
Oklahoma's bonded indebtedness is very manageable — indeed, the state could use more of it to further drive down borrowing costs. Rating services have made this clear to state leaders a number of times through the years.
Yet Republicans in both chambers, but particularly in the House, have come to equate responsible bonded indebtedness with the sort of irresponsible deficit spending coming out of Washington, D.C. In their view, all debt is bad, period. Apparently none of them carries a mortgage or a car payment, and they pay for every repair or remodeling project with cash, up front.
This aversion to bond issues has resulted in the overwhelming rejection of proposals to use this method to repair the Capitol building or replace the state medical examiner's office. Each project is badly needed. The Capitol plumbing is a disaster. Parts of the building's exterior are now cordoned off by yellow tape to ensure visitors aren't struck by falling pieces of the facade. The ME's office lost its national accreditation a few years ago, a truly embarrassing occurrence, and it won't be able to regain it while housed in its current building, which is old and crowded.
Many Democrats in the House voted last session against using a bond issue to pay for improvements to the Capitol. Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, recently assured Oklahomans that the opposition will continue in 2013 because, “We think that the Legislature ought to pay as you go instead of driving our state into further debt.”
That's amusing because in the same interview, Inman said his caucus will continue to bang the drum urging Gov. Mary Fallin to reverse her decision not to expand the state's Medicaid program. Yet there's certainly no pay-as-you-go dimension with Medicaid — expansion would simply require all-new spending, with no defined funding source. That's OK?
During the 2012 session, one House member suggested letting the people vote on whether they wanted to approve bond issues for the Capitol. This would have been a copout. Any such talk next year should be scuttled immediately. Instead, someone in the GOP needs to stand up and argue that the Capitol and medical examiner's office are priorities that must be addressed, and the best way to do so is with a bond issue. If need be, bring in a financial adviser to educate the group.
This week Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said that although the idea of a bond issue for the Capitol of medical examiner might have some chance to succeed, “I think it's going to be very difficult to get any bond issue passed through the Legislature.” Somehow, mindsets like that need to change because as we have noted more than once, the state's infrastructure needs won't go away.