Governor Brad Henry hails $500-million college bond program

Friday, January 14th 2005, 5:40 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A $500 million college bond program to repair dilapidated structures and build classrooms and research facilities is vital to the state's job creation efforts, Gov. Brad Henry said Thursday.

Henry is proposing to fund the bond program through proceeds from the state lottery approved by voters last November.

``Unless we upgrade our college campuses, particularly their research functions, Oklahoma will find it difficult to compete in the fast-changing, global economy of the future,'' the governor said at a news conference attended by college presidents from around the state.

Besides the long-term benefits to the economy, the bond issue is expected to create 4,000 construction jobs and have a $737 million economic impact statewide, officials said.

Henry said he hoped to get the program through the Legislature in time for groundbreaking on some of the projects this spring.

He said the program has the support of the Senate Democratic leadership and he thinks it will eventually be backed by House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville.

Hiett, however, said he is not ready to commit to the program and wants to make sure there will be enough lottery money to pay the bond debt. He also said legislators need time to scrutinize the individual projects.

Henry said lottery proceeds are expected to total $150 million in the first year and 45 percent of that will be earmarked for higher education under the plan approved by voters. He said about $30 million will be required to pay debt service on the bonds.

``There's a certain urgency to getting this done,'' said Paul Risser, higher education chancellor, who said colleges are in dire need of more facilities because the statewide student population has increased by 28,000 since 2000.

Risser and University of Oklahoma President David Boren stressed that the list of projects was reached objectively and agreed to by presidents of all state colleges and universities.

Boren said the bond program will help stop the exodus of some of Oklahoma's brightest students to find higher paying jobs in other states.

He said increasing the number of college graduates in Oklahoma is the key to attracting industry and raising the state's per capital income.

``If we are to become the research capital of the is the time to act,'' said David Schmidly, president of Oklahoma State University.

Glen Johnson, chairman of a group that represents 25 higher education presidents, said it has been 13 years since the last college bond program in Oklahoma.