DALLAS - Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is asking lawmakers to approve bonds to repair the capitol after the state Supreme Court struck down a funding mechanism approved in last year's legislative session.
"We must begin repairing the People's House now," Fallin said in her state-of-the-state speech Feb. 3. "The best, most realistic way to accomplish this is through a bond issue."
The 2013 legislature passed House Bill 2032 that provided $120 million for repairs through existing revenues. However, the state Supreme Court struck down the bill on Dec. 17, saying that combining funding for the project with an income tax cut violated the state constitutional ban on logrolling, or including multiple subjects in a single bill.
Fallin said the Capitol's plumbing problems are so severe that the state can't wait to make the repairs.
"Raw sewage is literally leaking into the Capitol basement," Fallin said. "On good days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it."
Amid conservative Tea Party opposition to debt, lawmakers sought a way to fund the repairs from existing revenues, even though post-recession budget stresses remained. The plan to cut income taxes after funds for the Capitol repairs were raised led to the Supreme Court ruling.
A legislative committee in the 2014 session has already responded to another of Fallon's requests, approving significant changes to the state employee pension system.
Senate Bill 2120 would move new state employees from a defined benefit plan to the 401(k)-style defined contribution plans being widely used in the private sector.
The bill does not cover employees such as firefighters and police officers, whose jobs are defined as "hazardous duty" and does not change the pension system for current employees or retirees.
"Under this bill, state employees looking to change careers would have the option of taking their retirement money with them, rather than being locked into a mid-20th century pension system," Fallin said.
??Oklahoma pension systems currently have $11 billion in unfunded liabilities.
"The system as it stands today is not financially sound," Fallin said. "It's important we shore up our pension systems so we can pay out the benefits we have promised to our retirees."