College students join Governor Brad Henry in pushing bonds

Thursday, February 10th 2005, 10:37 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ College students from across the state joined Gov. Brad Henry Thursday in urging speedy approval of a $500 million higher education bond issue.

Henry said failure to move the bond package through the Legislature with haste could cost the state millions of dollars because of rising interest rates and construction costs.

He and Higher Education Chairman Paul Risser said the projects were determined by college presidents through an objective process.

There is no need for legislators to tinker with the projects and create ``a pork barrel free-for-all,'' Henry said.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, said Republicans are developing their own bond issue. Hiett has expressed concern that lottery proceeds will not be sufficient to pay for the bonds.

Henry disagreed, saying the $32 million debt service on the bonds is only a fraction of the money higher education is expected to get each year in lottery revenue. He said lottery proceeds are ``the perfect revenue source'' for capital improvements.

He said he would veto any alternative funding plan that raises taxes and also would not stand for the bond plan to be used as ``a bargaining chip'' in the legislative process.

The Democratic governor was flanked by about 20 students from various colleges, who wore T-shirts supporting the bonds.

They spoke of cramped conditions, leaky roofs and inadequate equipment and research facilities.

Jessica Woodward of Tulsa Community College said her school lacked space to set up computers for the number of students using them.

Markesha Polk of the University of Science and Arts at Chickasha, said students at her school have had to maneuver around water dripping from leaky roofs.

``I really hope that they do this soon so the kids on campus can see that we're making progress,'' she said.

Henry said for every one-quarter percent increase in interest rates, the debt service on the bond issue would go up $28 million. He said construction costs went up 20 percent last year and a similar increase this year would increase the cost of the bond program by $25 million.

Officials have estimated the lottery will bring in about $150 million a year, of which 45 percent is earmarked for higher education and career tech.

Senate leaders have said the bond plan will be voted upon on the Senate floor the week of Feb. 21. The proposal was approved by an appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, 13-0.

Hiett said the size of the bond issue demands that House leaders take a close look at it.

``We must take the time to be responsible and to do this right,'' he said.