Capitol Business: Higher Education Bond Issue Needs Careful Look

By Pitts, William O. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 24, 2005 | Go to article overview

Capitol Business: Higher Education Bond Issue Needs Careful Look


Pitts, William O., THE JOURNAL RECORD


Concern by Republicans in the state Senate over funding the $500 million higher education bond issue being proposed may be valid. When first put forward in last year's legislative session, the big question was lack of a revenue source to repay the indebtedness.

This time the Regents for Higher Education are suggesting an allocation of $30 million to $32 million annually from the lottery's net proceeds to retire the bonds. Because it would negate the need for additional taxes and higher education is one of the key principles for passage of the lottery, the idea is a good one.

The only uncertainty is whether the lottery will produce necessary funds to meet the obligation. Net proceeds to the state during the fiscal year beginning July 1 are estimated to be $65 million based on a nine-month operation from Oct. 1 to June 30, 2006.

Oklahoma's Constitution restricts what can be spent to 95 percent of that estimate, or $62.5 million. Only 45 percent of that amount, or about $28 million, is allocated to higher education. That is only a partial year.

Current estimates for a full year's operation are pegged at $150 million by Gov. Brad Henry. To some that seems high. Others see a more likely figure of $90 million to $100 million annually. In such case higher education would receive between $39 million and $43 million.

It is reasonable to assume that would be sufficient to pay off the bonds over however many years of its term, and avoid any new taxes, but the great bulk of the higher education allocation would be dedicated to repaying them.

That may not be out of line. There are major needs within the university system that need attention.

Others may disagree. Freshman Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, has introduced legislation to reduce the higher education percentage from 45 percent to 40 percent with 5 percent going to the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program.

The current higher education allocation includes universities and Career Tech schools. So are capital investments, which would be in the bond issue, qualified student scholarships, tuition grants, loans, an endowed chair program and technology needs. …

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