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Oklahoma Supreme Court hears arguments on Tulsa project

The dispute centers on whether a proposed $25 million state bond issue to make improvements to develop a Tulsa park is constitutional.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: November 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm •  Published: November 9, 2012

A proposed Oklahoma $25 million bond issue to pay for repairs to a dam owned by the city of Tulsa is unconstitutional because it would be a gift to the city, a state senator argued Thursday before all nine justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Attorneys supporting the project countered that the project serves a public purpose for the state, which allows legislators to authorize bond issues and appropriate money to make the debt payments.

Justices listened intently, with most of them asking questions during the hourlong hearing. They will make a ruling later.

Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, filed a lawsuit earlier this year to stop the bond issue.

Lawmakers authorized the bond issue in 2009, with the understanding the money would be matched with a $50 million federal grant to build a series of low-water dams along the Arkansas River.

Federal funds never were approved and the project stalled. In January, plans were announced to use the $25 million bond issue to raise the level of Zink Dam in Tulsa by 3 feet so that a city park can be developed for residential purposes.

Anderson said the new use is not what the Legislature originally intended.

The state constitution forbids using state money for a purpose other than that intended by the Legislature, he said. It also prohibits the state from making gifts and forbids creating a debt without a vote of the people.

Change in purpose?

Assistant Attorney General David Kinney, representing the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, which would issue the bonds, said the project would serve a valid public purpose. He compared it to being similar to bonds being issued to pay for the state attorney general's building and the state judicial building.

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