Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson Wednesday offered to rescue the Higher Education bond issue from a sea of unnecessary partisan politics by announcing he would consider each of the other unrelated issues included in Speaker Todd Hiett’s bond proposal on their own merits.
“If Speaker Hiett honestly supports a bond issue for Higher Education, he should work to pass Senate Bill 745 quickly and address these other issues separately,” Hobson said. “Some of them may be worthy ideas and we welcome the opportunity to consider each of them individually. However, taken together, along with Speaker Hiett’s plan to re-open the list of projects funded by the bond issue, they could lead to its untimely death.”
Hobson restated his position that the list of projects included in SB 745, which passed the Senate on a 47-0 vote Tuesday, is non-negotiable.
The Senate leader said the Speaker’s assertion that his plan would “insure that capital projects are based on objective criteria” is a direct insult to the state’s 24 college presidents and the State Regents for Higher Education.
“The plan in Senate Bill 745 was drafted by the college presidents and regents, who developed a mutually-accepted objective formula for determining the needs on each campus. Months of research went into the Presidents’ bond proposal. There’s no need to create an ‘objective’ list because we already have one. Re-opening that process could very likely start an avalanche of me-too politics that will bury the issue completely,” Hobson said.
The Senate leader also repeated his stance on designating a second source for paying off the Higher Education bonds should lottery revenues come up short.
“The backup source of funding in Senate Bill 745 is any revenue available to Legislature for appropriation. That means should the Legislature ever need to use another source to the pay the bonds, it would have a myriad of choices. It was written that way because that will assure that the Regents get the lowest interest rate and save the state money. Limiting the resources available to be used as secondary funding sources will raise the interest rate and cost the state money,” Hobson said.
The Lexington Democrat said Speaker Hiett’s plan is full of examples of log-rolling issues into a single proposal when those issues do nothing but insert politics into what, thus far, has been a clean process.
“Allowing Oklahoma State University to buyout Langston University’s interests in Tulsa has absolutely nothing to do with whether there are leaking roofs and overcrowded classrooms on college campuses from Miami to Altus,” Hobson said.
Hiett’s assertion that his plan will end the diversion of money from the leaking underground petroleum storage tank clean-up fund to pay for capital projects at OU and OSU is misleading, Hobson said.
In 2002, the Legislature voted to redirect a portion of the revenue designated for storage tank clean-up to pay for the construction of a state-of-art weather research center at the University of Oklahoma and cutting-edge research facilities to study defenses against bio-terrorism at Oklahoma State University.
“But that so-called diversion is already scheduled to end early next year and all of the revenue will once again be available for use in cleaning up leaking underground petroleum storage tanks. Whether excess funds from a special 1-cent gasoline tax should be used to pay for bridge and road maintenance is another issue unrelated to the capital needs of our colleges and universities. It should be considered separately,” Hobson said.
Hobson admitted he’s skeptical about some of Hiett’s proposals.
He said he thinks Hiett’s plan is headed down a “slippery slope” by allowing the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University to issue debt without legislative approval.
“For the last two years, Representative Hiett fought to keep Oklahomans from getting to vote on a state lottery, a tribal gaming proposal and an increase in the cigarette tax. He always said he was sent to the Legislature to make those decisions for the people.
“Now that he’s Speaker, he wants to abdicate all legislative responsibility and allow the state’s two largest universities to go into debt on their own. I believe the public sent me here to keep an eye on its money, but if Speaker Hiett honestly wants to explore that option we should do so independent of the bond proposal now on the table,” Hobson said.
Hobson said the Speaker’s suggestion that OU and OSU issuing bonds on their own, or regional universities drawing on a “bond bank,” would get lower interest rates than the state as a whole is just not true.
“The full faith and credit of the State of Oklahoma is what will ensure the lowest possible interest rates for a Higher Education bond issue,” he said. “But all of these things are issues that we should consider individually and none of them should be used to delay passage of the Higher Education bond proposal developed by our college presidents.”