The Edmond Sun

Opinion

January 20, 2014

$160 million from thin air

GUTHRIE — I have seen some rather shocking decision-making process abuses in my time as a legislator and my observations have easily confirmed the famous Calvin Coolidge quote, “Nothing is easier than spending the public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody.”

The observations notwithstanding, one of the most eye opening, was a recent discovery made by a brand new member of the Legislature.

Normally, not too much is expected of freshman legislators, but that didn’t stop new state Rep. Mark McBride. McBride owns his own building and construction business and expressed an interest in using his expertise to analyze the proposal to fix the state Capitol building. He contacted House Speaker T.W. Shannon to express his desire to help on this issue.

Shannon was leading the effort to fix the Capitol building without issuing debt. Even though McBride was only a freshman legislator, Shannon placed his faith in McBride and empowered him to lead the research, and directed Rep. Harold Wright and myself to assist.

McBride wanted to put a true price tag on the Capitol repairs. Just one year previously, the Legislature had been asked to approve $160 million for the repair. The bill to issue the debt had been put on the House floor for a vote but was subsequently defeated.

Now, months later, those who wanted to issue debt were once again pushing hard for this type of bond issuance. Something didn’t seem right about this proposal to us. This expensive $160 million estimate simply seemed much too high and we wanted to know what it had been based on. A little research turned up a plan that put the real price tag at closer to $80 million. A close review of that plan indicated that even this much more modest proposal contained many unnecessary frills that simply weren’t necessary expenditures.

As we interviewed various officials, we came to the shocking realization that the Legislature had been asked to approve $160 million in bonds based on absolutely no sound logic. It’s as if the number had simply been made up out of thin air.

Now I truly understand that quote from President Coolidge! If legislators were spending $160 million of their own money, I bet they would have asked for a very itemized breakdown of the charges.

Later in the year, McBride, Wright and I worked together to oversee the renovation of the Capitol’s second floor west wing. The Supreme Court had vacated the space, allowing a renovation and the fixing of those items that were allegedly in need of serious repair. We sought to drive down the price of the construction and use this project as a test case to observe how the Capitol’s needed upgrades could be accomplished at a minimal cost.

The test confirmed our suspicions. The upgrade of the entire second floor west wing cost in the area of $2 million, indicating that the renovation of the remainder of the building would cost much less than we had been told.

McBride’s example demonstrates how legislators (even brand new legislators) can make a tremendous difference on behalf of the taxpayers. In upcoming months, I expect we will continue to build on this initial research as we seek to find ways to meet the state’s true infrastructure needs at minimal cost and without issuing debt.

In the meantime, it will be important for us to analyze the chain of events that led to the Legislature’s consideration of a shockingly massive bond issuance based on no more than what appeared to be a number pulled from thin air. We should understand how this mistake occurred to ensure it is not repeated in the future.

REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at jason.murphey@okhouse.gov.

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Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
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Undecided
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