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11 May
0

County Commissioners Join House Democrats in Urging State Officials to Leave Transportation Funding Intact

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: State Rep. Brian Renegar
Capitol: (405) 557-7381

County Commissioners Join House Democrats in Urging State Officials to Leave Transportation Funding Intact

OKLAHOMA CITY – Many rural roads and bridges in Oklahoma sustained extensive damage, and some state highways were flooded, in the storms that raked the state last week, and more rain is forecast this week.

As a direct consequence, several county commissioners and House Democratic legislators on Monday urged Governor Fallin to leave state and county transportation funds intact and not divert any of that revenue to plug the $611 million shortfall in the state budget.

As just one example, LeFlore County’s Board of County Commissioners adopted an emergency resolution Monday in which they asked the governor and the Legislature to declare a State of Emergency “to provide relief funding” to the eastern Oklahoma county, where damage to county roads and bridges is thought to be in excess of half a million dollars.

US 270, 1 mile west of turnpike

US 270, 1 mile west of turnpike

“This amount is a preliminary estimate only, with pending situations still being assessed,” the commissioners said. Bohanon Bridge near Talihina, “which is our priority,” has been “completely washed away,” the commissioners reported.

The LeFlore County commissioners asked the State of Oklahoma to “consider our situation with regards to the CIRB Funding Program and maintaining it at its current level.” The County Improvements to Roads and Bridges fund is “vitally important to the infrastructure of Oklahoma and our economy,” wrote Commission Chairman Lance Smith, Vice Chairman Derwin Gist, and member Cebern Scott.

Counties depend on the CIRB fund to finance big-ticket items such as bridge replacement and road reconstruction projects. Currently that fund has $254 million, ledgers reflect.

County commissioners in Caddo and Grady counties issued initial, preliminary estimates of one-quarter-million dollars of damage in each county to bridges and culverts.

Caddo County Bridge

Caddo County Bridge

One washed-out bridge in Caddo County will cost an estimated $60,000 to replace, officials said. (Photo attached.) That structure was constructed by the WPA (established in 1935, dissolved in 1943) when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, noted Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha.

LeFlore County Commissioner Scott said recently that he has more than 500 miles of county roads and more than 140 bridges, several of which were constructed by the WPA, in his district in southern LeFlore County. The CIRB fund is critical to maintenance of his transportation network, he said. “We rely on that money…That’s our lifeline.”

House Democrats also urged state budget writers and the governor to leave state transportation funding intact, largely because the full extent of damage from last week’s storms has not yet been determined.

“The water is still rising in my area,” said Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener. “We won’t know how bad it really is until the water goes down.”

“At the moment, we still have roadways under water, so a full assessment of our system cannot be developed until the water recedes,” echoed Anthony Echelle, Division 2 engineer with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, in a message to state Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester.

State Highway 31, 2.5 miles east of 31A

State Highway 31, 2.5 miles east of 31A

Washouts from the rainfall included the shoulders of two highways in Pittsburg County: S.H. 31 two and a half miles east of S.H. 31a, and a section of U.S. 270 one mile west of the Indian Nation Turnpike. (Photos attached)

“With the damage from the ice and snow earlier this year, to the saturation of flooding, our pavement infrastructure is a huge concern,” Echelle advised Renegar.

Eight state legislators sent an appeal Monday afternoon to Governor Fallin, urging her to visit some of the affected sites to see the damage for herself. In addition, they asked her to “please protect both county and state transportation funding as you consider the final components” of the state budget. “Governor, our soils are saturated, our creeks and ponds are at capacity,” and more rain is forecast later this week,” the legislators wrote.

Signatories included state Reps. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester; Johnny Tadlock, D-Idabel; Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs; Ed Cannaday, D-Porum; Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton; Perryman, Lockhart and Renegar.

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

05 May
0

Oklahoma Democrats Support Moratorium on Oil and Gas Disposal Wells in Most Vulnerable Areas

Media Contact:
Sarah Baker
Communications Director
Phone: (405) 824 – 7077
Email address: sarah@okdlive.wpengine.com

Oklahoma Democrats Support Moratorium on Oil and Gas Disposal Wells in Most Vulnerable Areas
and Demand Recognition of Importance for Continued Local Control

[OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, May 5, 2015] – According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes with magnitudes of 3.0 or higher in 2014 alone. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has also announced that when it came to the cause of the tremendous increase in earthquakes since 2008, oil and gas activity was “very likely” the cause. When there is a 60,000-percent (60,000%) increase in the background seismicity, the Oklahoma Democratic Party feels that this is evidence the state of Oklahoma can no longer afford to ignore.

“The oil and gas industry is the state’s most prominent industry and it is important that we continue to encourage that industry but not at the expense of our citizens, their homes, their pocketbooks, and ultimately their lives,” said Wallace Collins, Chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “Oklahomans must hold their legislators accountable, whether Democrat or Republican, and demand that they put the brakes on allowing this detrimental practice to continue. Here you have a group of people, the Republicans, that tout their support for and campaign on the basis of “local control” then come session do everything they can to restrict the ability of local municipalities and county commissions to regulate and decide what is best for their area and their people.”

An amendment proposed by Representative Cory Williams (D-Stillwater) would have removed the proposed repealer language from Senate Bill 809 but was defeated by a party-line vote. The existing law, on the books since 1935, states that nothing is “intended to limit or restrict the rights of cities and towns…” or “to provide its own rules and regulations…” regarding well-spacing units, drilling, or production.

An additional amendment, offered by Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) would have added the “protection of drinking water sources” to a list of “reasonable” ordinances that a municipality could enact pertaining to the incidental activities of oil and gas operations within its boundaries. The proposal enabling cities to protect their drinking water also failed on a party-line vote.

Further, when Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester) asked Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) if SB 809 would override or supersede a local, standing ordinance which has been on the books for more than 60 years, the answer was yes, the ordinance would need to be “updated.” It is obvious that the Republican leadership believes that local control is excessive and unwarranted.

Oklahoma averaged only 1-3 earthquakes per year from 1975 to 2008, around 20 in 2009, but now currently averages 1.6 per day – the same amount we experienced in a year for over 30 years of record keeping. The U.S. Geological Survey Geophysicist, Dr. William Ellsworth said, “Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.”

Oklahoma has already recorded more than 300 seismic events with a magnitude of over 3.0 for 2015, just 5 months into the year, putting the state on track to greatly exceed, possibly even double the 2014 total. A large event, one in the range of 6.5 – 7.2 magnitude, would be life threatening to Oklahomans.

“Unfettered control of an industry, as has been allowed to happen in the Oklahoma oil and gas industry, is dangerous for everyone involved. We are putting the lives of Oklahomans at risk,” said Collins. “There is a difference between ‘big government’ and responsible government – we want responsible government. This means that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, who has recently taken stronger action on this activity, is now being faced with pending budget cuts. The message the Republicans are sending to us is “If you disagree with the people paying for our re-election campaign, we’re going to cut you off at the knees.

“People in the hardest hit areas – those most promising to the oil and gas industry – are living in fear. We have a responsibility to do something about that, if for no other reason that because we can and it is the right thing to do.”

The bill now awaits final passage on the Senate floor before heading to the Governor’s desk. We urge you to contact Senators and tell them to reinstate proposed House amendments by Reps. Virgin and Williams to protect Oklahoma’s drinking water, the homes, and people especially in the 16 most vulnerable counties (Alfalfa, Carter, Garfield, Garvin, Grant, Lincoln, Logan, Love, Marshall, Noble, Oklahoma, Pawnee, Payne, Seminole, Stevens, and Woodward), their surrounding counties such as Canadian, Cleveland, Murray, and Pottawatomie, and to maintain, not eliminate or degrade, our existing local control.

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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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