DALLAS – An Oklahoma lawmaker revived his plan to issue $500 million of state bonds to fund the construction of storm shelters at public schools.

The bonds would be supported by annual revenues from the state franchise tax under a plan proposed Aug. 28 by Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs.

A petition drive is under way to collect the 160,000 signatures needed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. An amendment is needed to eliminate a provision that does not allow the state to issue bonds to benefit an effort by local school districts, Dorman said.

Dorman compared storm shelters at schools in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley to an insurance policy.

“You hope you never have to use it, but you are sure glad you have it when the worst happens,” he said.

Local districts could use the $500 million of bond proceeds to leverage three times that much in additional funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.

“In essence, they could receive up to $2 billion with this funding,” Dorman said.

A similar proposal was floated by Dorman during the 2013 legislative session after seven students died when a tornado struck an elementary school near Oklahoma City in May.

“There was a push to do something like this in the past session, but flaws in the bill language held it up,” Dorman said. “I would like to revive that effort this way to ensure our kids will have appropriate shelter when the next storm comes.”
Debt service on the bonds would come from the state franchise tax, which generated about $40 million a year before a three-year moratorium that began in 2010 and ended July 1.

Corporations are taxed $1.25 for each $1,000 of capital invested or used in Oklahoma, to a maximum of $20,000 a year. Foreign corporations pay an additional $100 a year.

Revenue not needed for debt service would help fund applications for storm shelter assistance by individuals and businesses, Dorman said.

“Dedicating this tax to help fund the construction of school shelters would be a great way to kick-start the process of protecting our kids from Oklahoma’s severe weather,” Dorman said.

A survey is being conducted to determine the shelter needs of individual school districts, he said.

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