State debt surpasses $1 billion

Monday, July 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's debt reached a record $1 billion June 30 but is still low compared to most other states.

The state incurs debt through bond measures used to fund capital improvement projects.

Legislation passed in this year's session authorizing more bonds will increase the state's bond debt in fiscal 2004 by slightly more than $99 million.

Those bonds, scheduled to be released this summer, will pay for a new building for the Oklahoma Historical Society, $18 million; the J.D. McCarty Center, $3.5 million; the higher education master lease program, $13 million; the industrial loan program, $10 million; the Native American Cultural Center, $33 million and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation lab, $22 million.

Revenue bonds typically are paid off through revenue produced by a project. For example, the OSBI lab bond debt will be repaid in part by fees collected from those using the lab's services.

``The concern that has been mentioned in talking with experts is that Oklahoma has so little debt,'' said Tim Martin, senior bond analyst for the state. ``There was concern that Oklahoma was not taking advantage of opportunities to take care of infrastructure needs. To this date, Oklahoma's debt still remains so much lower than other states.''

According to Moody's Investors Service, Oklahoma ranked 39th among states in debt per capita. Based on 2000 population figures, Oklahoma's per capita debt averaged $297. That number decreased in the January report filed by the state bond adviser to $267.13 in 2002. Moody's bond rating for the state is ``Aa3,'' at the low end of what the company considers high-quality bonds.

``Even though the outstanding debt amount will actually increase in 2004 and could be increased if more legislation is passed authorizing it, Oklahoma still ranks near the bottom when compared to other states,'' Martin said.