DALLAS — The Oklahoma House decisively rejected a proposed $200 million bond issue for state capitol repairs late Wednesday as lawmakers bowed to arguments that the additional debt would be a mistake.
The minority Democrats joined with conservative Republicans to defeat HB 3156 in a 77-to-15 vote.
Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, said the Legislature should not be considering the issuance of additional debt while an income tax cut that would reduce state revenues by millions of dollars each year is still on the table.
“We already have $2.2 billion of tax-supported debt that is costing us $230 million a year in debt service,” he said. “Is it fiscally responsible that we go further into debt?”
Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said the repairs to the capitol building could be accomplished on a pay-as-you-go basis with some of the $350 million in unanticipated revenue collected so far in fiscal 2012.
“Please, let’s just make the fiscally responsible decision and pay for it now,” Williams said. “Otherwise, we have to call ourselves liars and say the press releases we send out about how flush with cash we are was a joke.”
The rejection surprised Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, who sponsored the capitol bond bill, and House Speaker Chris Steele, R-Tulsa, who supported it.
Sears, who chairs the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said any future capitol bond proposals would be submitted to voters in a statewide election.
“My colleagues have spoken and it is quite obvious that they are not wanting at this time to send the state into that much debt for the capitol,” Sears said. “I think it is a clear message that we need to find another alternative in funding.”
Steele said lawmakers in Oklahoma are skittish of new state bonds because of the federal debt situation.
“While Oklahoma has managed its debt well, the fact is, it’s just a tough time to incur any debt, given the political climate,” he said.
Steele said repairs to the deteriorating capitol, which he said was in “awful shape,” will have to be addressed by the 2013 Legislature.
“These buildings won’t fix themselves,” he said.
The Senate rejected a $40 million bond issue to complete an Indian museum in Oklahoma City, but voted to send to the House a bill authorizing $20 million of bonds for an Oklahoma cultural museum in downtown Tulsa.
House Republican leaders Wednesday unveiled a new proposal to reduce Oklahoma’s top income tax rate after members balked when an analysis found an earlier proposal would raise taxes on some residents.
The new proposal cuts the top rate to 4.5% over 10 years from the current 5.25% if certain revenue targets are met. The disavowed plan called for a top rate of 4.8% next year.
The Legislature had to complete work on the tax proposal and a budget for fiscal 2013 by 5 p.m. Friday or else come back for a special session.