Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma House Passes Funding for University Projects

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma House Passes Funding for University Projects

Article excerpt

Legislation splitting $38 million in gasoline tax funding between the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University for a weather center and a sensor technology center for bioterrorism threats is on its way to the governor.
House members approved House Bill 2536 by 68-30, enough to pass the emergency measure but far short of the ringing 47-0 endorsement of the Senate.
As explained by Rep. Charles Gray, D-OKC, for two years the bill will set aside half of the revenue from a 1 cent fuel tax traditionally set aside to clean up leaking gasoline storage tanks. This will drop to 25 percent beginning with the fiscal year starting July 1, 2003, until the newly created "higher education facilities revolving fund" reaches the $38 million mark.
Earlier this session, Gray and 68 other House members signed a petition requesting a special session to pull the necessary funding for the two centers out of the constitutional reserve fund. Gray told lawmakers Monday that House Bill 2536 was the Senate's response.
The storage tank tax brings in about $24 million per year.
"If I had my wish, I'd probably prefer rainy day or general revenue, but that's not what we've got before us," Gray told the House.
He said that funding needs to be in place in fairly short order to preserve some $19 million in available federal funding.
The OU weather center will necessitate new construction, the OSU bioterrorism sensor facility renovation of existing structures.
Several members lined up for extended debate on both sides of the issue.
"There is an urgency to this bill," said Rep. Odilia Dank, R-Oklahoma City.
Dank said that the OSU facility is about ensuring the safety of the nation, the OU center about saving lives.
Also speaking in favor was Rep. Leonard Sullivan, R-OKC.
"I can't think of anything that would do more to change our image," he said of the potential of the two new centers. "There's no other way we can get more bang for our buck."
Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, R-Edmond, asked members to turn down the measure.
"The reason people don't trust the Legislature is that we run these type of shenanigans," said Pettigrew.
The two projects should be funded either with rainy day funding or a bond issue, he said. …

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