A bill that could cost Oklahoma public schools and higher education institutions millions of dollars in lost revenue linked to delinquent oil and gas royalty payments cleared the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday after the bill’s author said financially harming schools was not his purpose.
“It’s not my intention to do that,” state Sen. Anthony Sykes, the author of Senate Bill 1966, told committee members Wednesday.
Although the bill passed the committee 13-8, several senators stated Sykes would need to rework his bill if he wanted to receive their votes once the bill reaches the full Senate.
As written, Senate Bill 1966 would cut from 12 percent to about 3 percent the interest payments that oil and gas companies must make to the state Commissioners of the Land Office when those companies are delinquent in making royalty payments.
The Commissioners of the Land Office manages trust property for the benefit of Oklahoma common education and higher education institutions.
Would have cost schools $5.5M
Had the bill been law this current fiscal year, Oklahoma’s kindergarten to 12th-grade schools would have received about $5.5 million less and higher education institutions would have received about $1.5 million less, according to Harry Birdwell, secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office.
State Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater, told Sykes that school superintendents in his district are united against the bill as written because of the adverse effect it would have on school funding.
Sykes, R-Moore, said the purpose of the bill was to get the Commissioners of the Land Office to use the state attorney general’s office for lawsuits involving public lands. Sykes said he believes the Commissioners of the Land Office has been spending too much money on private attorneys.