DALLAS — Oklahoma lawmakers will decide on three bond issues totaling $260 million after committees approved the measures Tuesday.
Joint appropriations and budget committees in the House and Senate approved $200 million of bonds to repair the state capitol, $40 million to complete an Indian museum in Oklahoma City, and $20 million for a proposed Oklahoma cultural museum in Tulsa.
The debt would be issued as lease revenue bonds by the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority. The bonds would be supported through annual appropriations by the Legislature.
All three measures face some level of opposition in the House and Senate.
Gov. Mary Fallin and leaders of the Republican majority back the capitol bonds. Some conservative Republicans and the Democratic minority said they oppose all or some of the new bond proposals.
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the upgrades at the capitol are long overdue.
Some areas around the building have been cordoned off to protect visitors from falling chunks of limestone. “The people’s building is literally falling down around us,” Steel said. “It’s time we stop neglecting this capitol and fix it along with the other nearby state buildings that also have major maintenance needs.”
The project also includes repairs to the governor’s mansion and a state office building at the complex.
Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, and two other lawmakers who oppose the debt plans, held a news conference after the committees endorsed the three bills.
Anderson said the state should be spending money on infrastructure, not museums.
“I come from rural Oklahoma, and none of these measures are going to benefit my constituents,” he said. “We need roads. We need bridges. We don’t need museums.”
“It’s terribly fiscally irresponsible for the Legislature to incur this debt at the same time we’re trying to cut revenues by lowering taxes,” Anderson said.
Anderson said if the three bond proposals become reality, the Legislature will have added $535 million of new debt to the books.
In addition to the $260 million being considered, he said, lawmakers have approved $25 million of bonds for a dam project in Tulsa County and $250 million of master lease revenue bonds for higher education projects.
“The $535 million only accounts for the principal repayment of the bond issues,” Anderson said. “The interest on these bonds will obligate the taxpayers of Oklahoma for millions more in addition to that amount.”
The $40 million for the Native American Cultural Center and Museum would complete the facility that was first proposed in 1990.
The Legislature authorized a $33 million issue for the museum in 2005 and a $25 million one in 2008.
Supporters of the proposed Oklahoma Popular Culture Museum to be located in Tulsa had hoped for $42.5 million of bonds.
Officials from the Oklahoma Historical Society said they may seek a $22.5 million issue from the 2013 Legislature for the Tulsa project.
However, Senate President pro tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said that any additional funding would have to come through contributions from the private sector.
Democratic leaders said last week the party would not support any bond measures while lawmakers consider an income tax cut.
Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, said that many Democrats on the two committees voted to move the bond measures along because the tax cut is still being debated.
Burrage voted against the capitol bonds, but said he supports the Indian museum debt.
“We believe it deserves a vote on the full Senate floor,” he said. “It was a commitment that was made by the state of Oklahoma years ago that should be upheld.”