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05 May
0

GOP-Controlled Legislature is Poised to Reroute Road/Bridge Funding to Plug Gap in State Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Democratic Leader Scott Inman
Capitol: (405) 557-7370

GOP-Controlled Legislature is Poised to Reroute Road/Bridge Funding to Plug Gap in State Budget

OKLAHOMA CITY – Many critical bridge and highway improvement projects in Oklahoma are at risk of being delayed if majority-party leaders in the Legislature raid state and county transportation funds, as they have indicated they intend to do, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman warned Monday.

Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature “have eroded our revenue sources so badly that core functions of government are being pitted against each other,” the Del City Democrat said. “The people of Oklahoma shouldn’t have to choose between good roads and bridges and good schools. We Democrats believe the Legislature should be able to adequately fund both.”

The majority party “has managed to put this state’s financial status in a precarious position,” Inman said. Because of the GOP’s “single-minded obsession with tax cuts,” the Legislature was confronted with a $188 million budget hole last year and now faces a budget deficit of $611 million.

To plug this massive hole, the Republicans intend to mount a wholesale raid on state savings accounts, “just like they did last year when they siphoned – in at least two instances, unconstitutionally — $291 million from 29 agency revolving funds and savings accounts,” Inman said.

That means two critical transportation funds are at risk, Inman emphasized.

One is the $352 million Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund established in 2005 to upgrade Oklahoma’s long-neglected state highways and bridges. Another $59.7 million is scheduled to be allocated to the ROADS fund this year.

Oklahoma has 372 bridges on its state and federal highway system that are structurally deficient, according to 2014 data compiled by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT).

One example is the Belle Isle Bridge on I-44 in Oklahoma City. A contractor discovered “much worse deterioration than expected” on nearly half of the bridge’s 95 support piers, ODOT disclosed Monday. The extensive damage prompted transportation officials to close lanes and ramps on the bridge April 16; ODOT indicated the ramps will remain closed for the remainder of this year. The bridge, which was constructed in 1978, is traveled by 100,000 vehicles on an average day.

Similarly, the S.H. 83 bridge over the Kansas City Southern Railroad southeast of Poteau was closed on March 27 after ODOT workers discovered deterioration underneath the 78-year-old structure while filling a pothole. Emergency repairs costing $265,000 necessitated closure of the bridge for a month while corroded beams were replaced and a new section of deck was constructed. The bridge, which carries an average of 2,300 vehicles daily, was reopened to traffic on April 29.

ODOT has replaced or renovated 945 highway bridges since 2006, “but it will take many years to catch up with the backlog of needed improvements,” agency officials reported. The department’s Eight-Year Plan includes 935 bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects, which would address all of the remaining structurally deficient highway bridges.

In addition, nearly one-third of the state’s highway miles – 3,867 of the 12,264 total highway miles – are deemed to be substandard and in need of rehabilitation or replacement. Fully 87% of those substandard highways are two-lane routes, records reflect.

ODOT has identified an estimated $6.26 billion critically needed transportation improvement projects on state and federal highways in Oklahoma and the interstate highway system that are scheduled to be performed in its FY 2015-22 eight-year Construction Work Plan (CWP).
[http://www.okladot.state.ok.us/cwp-8-year-plan/index.htm]

More than 3,100 miles of Oklahoma highways are in need of rehabilitation or replacement but are not currently included in the CWP, the Transportation Department confirmed.

Also in the GOP crosshairs is the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Fund, which county commissioners depend on to finance expensive transportation projects. [http://www.okladot.state.ok.us/cirb/pdfs/cirb_fy2014-2018_workplan.pdf] Among those are four expensive projects in northwestern Oklahoma and several in Oklahoma County. (See “County Commissioners Depend on CIRB to Finance Big-Ticket Road/Bridge Projects”)

Preliminary indications are that the Republicans intend to siphon as much as $100 million of the $254 million cash balance in the CIRB fund in order to balance the state budget, Inman said.

“If they do, numerous county road and bridge improvement projects will have to be put off for years,” he said, “because counties are required to have cash-in-hand before starting a project through the CIRB program. On larger projects, it often takes several years to accumulate the necessary funds.”

According to the state Transportation Department, Oklahoma has 3,236 substandard county bridges.

The Republican-dominated Legislature has saddled public school students with an excessive number of tests, denied teachers a pay raise for the last seven years, and diverted $33 million annually from textbook replacement to payment of routine operational expenses for five consecutive years. “Just imagine how much damage they will cause to our bridges, roads and highways if they start siphoning off that money, too,” Inman said.

The Republican Legislature and the Republican governor “need to delay the pending state income-tax reduction and impose across-the-board cuts in all of those expensive tax credits, instead of diverting transportation funds and cutting education again,” Inman asserted.

“And I urge all Oklahomans to contact Republican legislators and advise them to vote against any raid on the CIRB. Leave that fund intact. It’s that important.”

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

20 Apr
0

Oklahoma Democratic Party Opposes “Right to Farm” Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Oklahoma Democratic Party Opposes “Right to Farm” Legislation

[OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, April 20, 2015] – “House Joint Resolution 1012, otherwise known as “Right to Farm” is going to end up being just like ‘Right to Work’ where it is promoted to protect the rights of Oklahomans but in reality it only protects big businesses and their ‘rights’ to abuse the system for their own benefit,” Wallace Collins, chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party said in a statement on Monday.

Collins went on to say, “The proposal is so vague that not only is it confusing to legislators and voters, but it could also lead to a legal challenge in the court system. Oklahoma is considered a ‘rural’ or ‘ag-friendly’ state, and I can confidently say that the majority of Oklahomans support our local, family farms; however, what people don’t understand about this bill is that it is based off of model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

“This would do away with the rights of local municipalities to govern what’s right for them and their property owners, as well as open the doors to allow big agriculture corporations, like Monsanto and Cargill, to have free-reign to do whatever they want. Even after an attempt by Senator Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) to grant control to the local level, Republicans overwhelming responded by saying that this was ‘not a local issue’ and should be left up to the state – the same people that complain about not enough control at the local level.

“Let’s take action to not only protect the rights of our own, home-grown ag community but also the rights of property owners and residents all across Oklahoma. Many Oklahomans would object to the pollution of our air quality, driving down property values and commerce, and the degradation of our water sources due to increased runoff from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), puppy mills, and dangerous chemicals in applied fertilizers.

“This legislation is not protecting the ‘right to farm’ of local farmers and ranchers but is instead promoting the ‘right to harm’ our communities, our environment, and the rights of our citizens.”

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20 Apr
1

Community Leader Cyndi Munson Announces Candidacy for House District 85

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 20, 2015
For more information contact:
Kylie Shelley
kylie@skyfiremedia.net

Community Leader Cyndi Munson Announces Candidacy for House District 85

Cyndi MunsonCyndi Munson, community leader and advocate, announced her candidacy for House District 85. The House seat became vacant when Representative David Dank, R- Oklahoma City, passed away last week. Governor Mary Fallin is expected to call a special election within the coming days.

“Representative Dank left a legacy that will live on for many years to come,” said Munson. “Our district lost a tireless worker, a man of good conscience, and a strong voice for seniors. He was highly regarded as someone who stood on principle and made our district proud. I hope to be a strong servant and continue the tradition of service-based leadership at the Capitol.

Cyndi has spent a decade working and volunteering in Oklahoma City’s non-profit community. She spent the last five years working with Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma, providing leadership programs for thousands of girls in low-income schools, juvenile detention centers and public housing. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the Infant Crisis Services Young Professionals Group, secretary of the University of Central Oklahoma Alumni Association Board of Directors, member of the Oklahoma Messages Project Board of Directors, member of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, member of the University of Central Oklahoma Young Leaders Alliance, and alumni member of the Department of Corrections Leadership Academy.

“Oklahoma’s schools are in serious need of more resources and more teachers,” said Munson. We have an economy in Oklahoma City that needs to diversify and build more quality jobs for our families. Oklahoma is the least healthy state for women and girls. And 1 out of 4 children go to bed hungry every night in our state. We have serious problems that need leaders with the right type of experience to find solutions to these issues. I am the type of leader that puts the needs of her community and state ahead of partisan politics.”

For more information about the campaign, please visit http://www.cyndimunson.com.

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16 Apr
0

Shelton Calls for Independent Investigation Into Reserve Deputy Shooting of Unarmed Man

Rep. Shelton Calls for Independent Investigation Into Reserve Deputy Shooting of Unarmed Man

Shelton, MikeOKLAHOMA CITY (April 15, 2015) – State Rep. Mike Shelton today called on the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma Attorney General to investigate the circumstances surrounding the shooting of an unarmed man in custody by a Tulsa County Reserve Deputy on April 2.

Reserve Deputy Bob Bates claimed that he believed he had pulled his stun gun when he shot Eric Harris with his service pistol during a struggle with police. Today, Bates was charged with second degree manslaughter, according to Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. Shelton wants the OSBI and Attorney General to investigate in order to ensure the victim’s family and the public can feel confident the investigation is thorough and unbiased.

“There are too many variables here for me and anyone else to believe that this investigation is going to be impartial,” said Shelton, D-Oklahoma City. “We simply cannot afford to have the public’s trust in our law enforcement eroded any further. We need to remove the appearance of personal and political biases from this case, so I hope these public agencies will intervene immediately.”

09 Apr
0

State Budget Shortfall Worse Than Thought; County, State Road/Bridge Funds at Risk

State Budget Shortfall Worse Than Thought;
County, State Road/Bridge Funds at Risk

Lockhart, JamesOKLAHOMA CITY – To put it bluntly, I’m worried. We still haven’t tackled too many world-changing type issues this session. No major changes when it comes to reducing the number of tests our kids take at school, nothing major in any health care issues, and not much doing in reforming any tax-related issues, especially fines and fees that disproportionally hurt small businesses.

The main reason for the stalemate is the huge budget deficit we are facing. Our state Constitution requires the budget to be balanced. Basically, with a shortfall of $611 million, the bills we pass this year need to have little or no cost on state revenues. We can’t write hot checks like the federal government, then go print up more money when it’s time to pay up; the state Legislature has to actually watch how much it spends.

I visited with the chairman of the Appropriations Committee Thursday morning and I asked him, “Earl, can you give me a bit of good news to tell the folks back home regarding the budget?”

His response was a light at the end of a tunnel – but it was a train, not the good kind of light I was hoping for. He said people are saying it’s a $611 million deficit, but they are failing to account for insurance for teachers, the Pinnacle Plan (the ongoing effort by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to reform the state’s child welfare operations), and the raises for state employees that was passed last year.

Representative Sears said all totaled, we are looking at being around $670 million short. I asked him if he thought the CIRB (County Improvements to Roads and Bridges) fund would be cut and he said “yes”. He also said funding for state highways would be cut, too.

He did ask me to report that he was trying to craft a budget that would do as little harm as possible. He said the Senate has its version of a budget, and the governor has hers. The final budget must be agreed upon by the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Governor, so it’s never a sure thing until it’s signed into law.

This week I had Isaac Walden as a legislative page. I have known Isaac for some time; he is active in FFA and FCCLA. The pages hold a mock Legislature and elect officers; Isaac was elected Lieutenant Governor of Pageville. Isaac did a wonderful job for us at the Capitol.

It is an honor to serve as your state Representative. If I can ever be of assistance, please feel free to contact me at the office at (405) 557.7413; at home, (918) 653.7571; or by email at james.lockhart@okhouse.gov; or you can find me on Facebook.

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