NO one doubts the Oklahoma Capitol desperately needs major repairs. For those worried that the micromanaging impulses of lawmakers might ultimately hamper those efforts, here’s a bit of good news: The legislative oversight committee created to supposedly oversee the process is just window dressing.
For years, the decay of the Oklahoma Capitol has been obvious. Barricades and scaffolding have been erected outside the building to reduce the likelihood of visitors being struck by falling pieces of limestone. But that’s just the most notable problem. The plumbing system in the 452,000-square-foot Capitol includes many rotting pipes, some of which have fully disintegrated since installation decades ago. The electrical system is a hodgepodge, including many components that don’t meet modern safety standards. The terrazzo floor in the building’s lower level has extensive cracking.
The deterioration is so bad that Capitol architect Duane Mass has indicated the building could potentially be forced to close due to safety issues.
None of this is new information. Barriers have been in place for nearly three years. Yet lawmakers have consistently failed to fund repairs. House members’ opposition to bond financing has been largely to blame. Last year a repair bill was struck down because lawmakers unconstitutionally logrolled it with a tax cut.
This session, legislators finally approved a $120 million, 10-year bond issue to begin repair efforts. However, House Joint Resolution 1033 also created a State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee to oversee the project. The committee will have nine members — three gubernatorial appointees and six lawmakers appointed by legislative leaders.
A news release issued by House leadership said the committee would “ensure that the repairs and renovations are made in an efficient and fiscally conservative manner.” This is curious given that legislators had steadfastly ignored the fact that a building was literally falling to pieces around them. Now Oklahomans are supposed to believe those same lawmakers could provide competent oversight requiring attention to detail?
But Gov. Mary Fallin let the cat out of the bag with a May 29 executive order. She noted that the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits lawmakers from being appointed to an office that exercises executive branch authority. Thus, if the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee operates as lawmakers advertise, HJR 1033 is unconstitutional.
Not to worry: “The resolution’s language carefully circumscribes the committee’s duties to those of a purely advisory group,” Fallin wrote. She noted the committee will have “no role” in issuing the bonds that will fund repairs and the group “cannot approve expenditures.” The committee also “cannot approve the budget for the restoration” and “has no control of activities related to the exterior of the Capitol building.”
Instead, Fallin said the group’s “sole purpose” (emphasis in the original) is to prepare a “project programming plan” for repair of the tenant areas of the Capitol occupied mostly by lawmakers and their staff. And that plan “remains a purely advisory document …” Instead, the “ultimate authority” remains with the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, who is a Fallin appointee.
So this committee was created merely to provide political cover, not to actually direct Capitol repairs. Given lawmakers’ record on state Capitol upkeep, that should be considered a victory for Oklahoma taxpayers.