Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Capitol Business: Urge to Rush Raises Questions

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Capitol Business: Urge to Rush Raises Questions

Article excerpt

Bipartisan support for a $500 million higher education bond issue was demonstrated last week by action of the state Senate in voting 46-0 to send Senate Bill 745 to the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson, D- Lexington, it is endorsed by Democrat Gov. Brad Henry, 24 college presidents across the state and the State Regents for Higher Education, who put together the package of capital improvements.

They urged its quick passage.

House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, has offered another plan accomplishing much the same agenda. It does not negate the bipartisanship, but indicates there could be some changes to it in the House, which may slow the bill's progress.

Hiett's plan offers some alternatives worthy of analysis and comparison. The amount of the bond package remains the same, but less money is available immediately.

Differently it would permit future borrowing by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University regents, with approval from the State Regents for Higher Education without legislative authorization. It establishes a capital endowment fund offered by the State Regents. Regional colleges and universities could borrow from the fund.

Allowing OU and OSU regents to create debt on their own is cause for concern. Since inception, Oklahoma's constitution has provided restrictions on state borrowing, which worked effectively. In recent years, helped by questionable decisions of the state Supreme Court, the constraints were bypassed. Hundreds of millions of dollars in bonded debt were incurred without authorization by the voters as constitutionally required.

Hiett's proposal would exacerbate the problem.

It keeps the people through their legislators from reviewing, altering or rejecting the amounts of money and purposes for which it would be spent.

Hobson's bill uses part of the lottery revenue dedicated to higher education and such other sources as may be necessary to repay the debt.

Hiett's plan banks on the lottery revenues but identifies the gross production tax as the secondary source.

Tying the gross production tax to education has in the past made it difficult to adjust incentives for the industry to encourage greater exploration and development. …

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