FEW people may remember this now, but when the EDGE endowment fund was first proposed an actual funding source was identified. The working group headed by now-Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis and former Gov. David Walters not only suggested creating a $1 billion endowment to fund research, but also called for selling state assets to generate the money.
Among other things, the group suggested selling the Grand River Dam Authority, CompSource (the quasi-state workers' compensation provider) and surplus state buildings and land. They estimated windfalls of up to $400 million for GRDA, $100 million for CompSource, and $200 million for state properties.
That was 2003, and lawmakers have since diverted EDGE funds, but those suggestions are worth revisiting today.
While we don't think it wise to monetize assets for ongoing expenses, one-time expenditures could certainly be addressed with the funds.
Fortunately, some movement has occurred in this direction. State Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton and House speaker-designate, has led the charge to develop an accurate tally of state-owned properties so that surplus buildings and land can be sold. He says the money should pay for maintenance of other state facilities. This is a worthwhile use of the cash.
GRDA and CompSource may prove more challenging due to political pressure. But, to be blunt, both are relics of Depression-era government activism.
Countless Oklahomans already get power from private companies; that seems to be working fine. On the other hand, political considerations clearly play a large role in GRDA's management, including recent fights over office location decisions.
Former GRDA CEO Kevin Easley was a state senator before his hiring. He resigned under a cloud after getting a questionable raise of nearly $90,000 when the board gave him the additional title of director of investments, apparently to circumvent statutory pay limits. Easley's successor is also a former lawmaker — state Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa. Even if Sullivan proves capable, his hiring indicates that the GRDA still prizes political connections more than managerial experience.