DALLAS – Oklahoma lawmakers are setting aside $45 million from the rainy day fund for recovery efforts after Monday’s deadly storm, but action on a proposed $500 million state bond issue for school tornado shelters will have to wait until 2014.
The House on Thursday unanimously approved Senate Bill 249, which transfers at least $45 million from the $577 million Constitutional Reserve Fund into the state’s emergency fund. The draw could be higher if additional dollars are needed to match federal disaster funds and for other disaster-related assistance.
The measure won unanimous approval Wednesday in the Senate.
Gov. Mary Fallin, who asked for the appropriation, said she would sign the bill after it received the necessary two-thirds approval in the House and Senate.
Tapping the rainy-day fund would normally require a three-quarters majority in the Legislature, but the emergency declaration she issued on May 19 lowered the threshold.
The declaration covering 16 counties was issued the day before a massive F5 tornado killed at least 24 people in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. Two died in the Sunday storms.
The Oklahoma Department of Insurance estimated property damage from Monday’s storm at $2 billion. Authorities in Moore said the tornado damaged or destroyed as many as 13,000 homes, and displaced 33,000 of the town’s 56,000 residents.
Six of the 10 children who died in the Moore tornado were killed when an elementary school was destroyed.
The death toll shows the need for more shelters in public schools, said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs.
The $500 million state bond issue that he proposed to fund construction of the shelters will likely not be considered in the remaining days of the 2013 session, Dorman said.
Legislative leadership is hesitant to consider any new debt, he said.
“I have put in the request for the bill to be drafted, but it will have to be proposed by either the presiding officer of a legislative body or the appropriations chair,” Dorman said.
“It has been slow to get a response,” he said. “The Speaker (Rep. T.W Shannon, R-Lawton) is reluctant to use bonds for any capacity. “
The Legislature is set to recess May 31, he said, and at least five days is needed to pass legislation.
“With the limited amount of time and inaction on it by the leadership, I think the best shot we will have is to file the bill for hearing next February when we return for the 2014 session,” Dorman said.
The bond issue would provide $400 million to build storm shelters in public schools, Dorman said, and $100 million to help build shelters at residences and group homes.
“We live in Tornado Alley and this will happen again,” said Dorman. “We need to provide some funding to help build storm shelters, especially in schools.”
Sen. Clark Jolley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that approved the emergency transfer bill Tuesday, said the $45 million is an estimate. The final cost to the state and local governments may not be available for months, he said.
“All of us are very conscious of what has happened,” Jolley said. “We’ve got an issue we’ve got to resolve.”
Jolley, R-Edmond, said the $45 million from the rainy day fund will be used as the state match to disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to pay costs not covered by FEMA.
The state money will pay overtime costs for emergency personnel and repairs to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, Jolley said, but not for direct relief to individuals.