The state Senate today approved legislation that would issue $160 million of bond money to renovate the state Capitol building.
Problems for the 96-year-old building have been a safety hazard in recent years with pieces falling along the exterior. Yellow barricades placed in front of the building are a reminder of the safety risks to visitors and staff.
“Many thanks to the senators who voted to support this measure, which would pay for much-needed repairs to the state Capitol,” said Gov. Mary Fallin. “It’s our responsibility to maintain and preserve our seat of government. A bond issue is the best, most realistic option for restoring the people’s House.”
Also, the Senate formed a Senate Capitol Construction Oversight Select Committee to monitor cost issues, said Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman. State Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, will chair the committee of six members including state Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Edmond.
“As a state, we have an obligation to take care of our assets, especially the seat of our government, our state Capitol,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa, who is author of the bill.
The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 36-11 and now moves to the House for further consideration.
Last year, the Legislature passed and the governor signed into law a bill that requires Oklahoma’s debt to be capped at no more than five percent of average general revenue collections. Even with the issuance of this bond, Oklahoma will still remain well below that limit.
Fallin said that 41.5 percent of the state’s outstanding, tax-backed bonds will be paid back by the end of calendar year 2018.
The state has great needs because it has failed to manage its assets for decades, House Speaker Jeff Hickman said Thursday. The Governor’s Mansion and other property throughout Oklahoma has not been maintained, he said.
“I hope we don’t have one of those earthquakes that happens around this area and shakes this corner of the building where all the scaffolding is, because we very well could have someone killed,” Hickman said.
The plumbing in the century-old building is so decrepit that human waste has leaked to soil under the basement floor, he said. Even in worse shape is the Jim Thorpe building across the street where the Corporation Commission is housed, Hickman said. It has been without air conditioning for the last few summers, Hickman said.
“How do we address that?” Hickman said. “There was an attempt to address it with cash out of the budget last year. There’s discussion about doing a bond issue. There’s a discussion about sending a bond issue to a vote of the people. There’s a discussion about the Rainy Day Fund.
Hickman is trying to determine from House members what they think the best option would be to repair the building, he said.
Though the Senate moved a bill Thursday to fund the completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and museum, Hickman said he has members saying how do we prioritize that when there are infrastructure concerns at the state Capitol.
“We’re facing a difficult budget year. We thought our revenue situation might improve,” Hickman said. Instead, it got worse from a $170 million shortfall last year to $188 million this year, he said.
The state Capitol is getting close to a point where it may not be usable as the plumbing situation is critical, Hickman said. Electricity passes through 1917 electric wiring.
“It’s a wonder it hasn’t burned the building down at this point, he said.
Meanwhile, construction costs are increasing by 6 percent every year, Hickman continued.
“If you look at a bond issue you obviously have debt,” Hickman said. “But if you defer this to the next generation by kicking the can down the road, you’re creating debt for future legislators and our children and grandchildren.”
Hickman said he hopes legislators can make a decision to begin making repairs. The state of Kansas opted to renovate their state Capitol in phases, he said. What was thought would cost $100 million for repairs ended up costing Kansas $300 million by using the phased approach, he said.
“I’m hopefully optimistic that we can reach some type of agreement this year and have a plan for this building going forward,” Hickman said.
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