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Governor proposes using tobacco settlement for bond issue

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A portion of the state's share of tobacco
settlement money is being touted by Gov. Frank Keating as a way to
improve school technology and help finish up the funding for the
Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Keating proposed Friday that some of the money be used for a
$500 million bond issue, with half the amount going to higher
education, $100 million for a public school technology fund and
$150 million for a variety of other projects selected by the
governor and the Legislature.

"This is a prime opportunity to take some of this money now and
invest it in our future," Keating said. "To use it for school
technology, higher education and other vital projects is prudent
and I urge the Legislature to support this proposal."

Senate President Pro-Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said
he had a number of questions but would keep an open mind.

State School Superintendent Sandy Garrett and Bill Burgess,
chairman for the Oklahoma State Board of Regents, support the plan.

Oklahoma is scheduled to receive $2.3 billion over the next 25
years as a result of the tobacco settlement. It already has
received $24 million and a $65 million payment is expected in
April.

Keating proposed using $100 million to create a school
technology fund with money allocated in the form of matching grants
based on the technology needs and local effort in each district.

"As we approach the 21st century, our schools must be prepared
to compete," Keating said. "Our students need high-speed data
transmission and Internet connections along with up-to-date
hardware and software."

Keating said each school district knows best what it needs.
"Some districts have taken great steps forward, others have not,"
he said.

Keating said some of the technology funds could be used for
distance learning options.

"The future is the virtual classroom," he said. "Districts
that might have a shortage of teachers in one subject area can take
advantage of the technology and provide distance learning
opportunities."

Keating said he would work with Ms. Garrett and the state Board
of Education to develop final criteria for the school technology
fund.

The funds for higher education would be allocated on a per
capita basis, based on full-time student enrollment.

Keating said it was important to move ahead with projects such
as the weather center at the University of Oklahoma and the
expanding higher education programs OU and Oklahoma State
University have in Tulsa. He noted it was up to the State Regents
for Higher Education to decide how and where bond funds are to be
spent.

Taylor said basing the distribution of bond funds on enrollment
was a new approach that would need study.

"I am curious about how it would actually work because needs
are not always determined by enrollment," he said. He said that
approach might actually shortchange OSU-Tulsa.

"It has one of the smallest enrollments in the state, but its
administrators contend it has some of the biggest capital needs."

Taylor said he was also curious about the idea of dividing up
the bond money first and then trying to find projects to fit the
total. He said that might tie the regents' hands.

"By dictating how much money they can spend on the capital
needs at each institution, the governor may automatically rule out
certain projects that the regents may think are vital.
Historically, I think we've been better served by having the state
regents be the leaders in proposing capital projects."

Keating proposed that the remaining $150 million be spent on
project of statewide significance that he and the Legislature agree
on. He said he wanted to see money spent on the weather center at
OU, the Army Museum of the Southwest in Lawton, roof repairs to
National Guard armories across the state and to help finish the
memorial to victims of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P.
Murrah Federal Building.



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