Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Senator Ponders End for Turnpike Authority

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Senator Ponders End for Turnpike Authority

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

Control of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, now in the hands of the governor, could become a political issue during the next legislative session which begins Feb. 7, state Sen. Dave Herbert, D-Midwest City, said Wednesday.

He is considering introduction of a bill to abolish the quasi-state agency which supervises funding, construction, maintenance and operation of state toll roads, Herbert told a luncheon meeting of the Oklahoma Highway Users Federation.

"I have already talked to the bill writer to see about drafting that bill," said Herbert, chairman of the Senate General Government Committee. "Because of the (revenue) bonds which have been issued by the turnpike authority, it's something that would have to be handled delicately and make the authority a part of state government.

"At the very least, we need to consider changing the way in which members are appointed."

Mismanagement of the authority, coupled with a lack of response to the people, could increase the state's indebtedness by billions of dollars, Herbert said.

"If something were to happen, and it's not unheard of for an agency such as this to go under, then the taxpayers of Oklahoma would assume that debt acquired by the turnpike authority," he said.

While keying in on the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and Gov. David Walters' plan for $1.7 billion in toll road construction, Herbert said state boards, commissions and authorities are issuing revenue bonds which could end up as taxpayer debt.

"Members of these commissions, boards and authorities are responsible only to the person that appointed them, the governor of the state," Herbert said. "They are not elected representatives of the people; they are not responsible to the taxpayers of this state."

Walters' toll road plan would bring the turnpike authority's bonded indebtedness to $2.4 billion, or "$750 for every man, woman and child in Oklahoma," he said.

Oklahomans should be concerned and become involved in their state government because of the immense debt being piled on the state by boards, commissions and authorities, Herbert said.

"Back when we (the Oklahoma Legislature) could crank up the gasoline tax to pay off that road debt, it was no big deal," he said. "But now, legislators' hands are tied. We can't raise taxes without a vote of the people, so that means that the debt would have to come from what we have now."

Herbert also was critical of the recently enacted toll increases on state turnpikes and predicted another increase before the next legislative session.

"They (authority trustees) are saying this increase is to pay for additional maintenance," Herbert said. "That's a bunch of malarkey. When they went to New York to issue bonds, they had to have included in their toll structure funding to pay for maintenance. …

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