- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A $160 million bond package that would fund repairs to Oklahoma’s crumbling Capitol building cleared a Senate committee Wednesday with the backing of Democrats and Republicans.

Gov. Mary Fallin has backed the borrowing plan, saying it was appropriate for the state to take on debt to repair the century-old seat of government. Some legislators had preferred a pay-as-you-go approach, with the state making repairs and renovations only when sufficient funds were available.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 20-1 on Wednesday to approve the bill, which authorizes the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority to issue the bonds.

“This building is the people’s house, and it is important that it be a functional building where they can participate in our state government without fear of injury,” Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said.

Former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon was a vocal critic of a bond issue, but newly elected Speaker Jeff Hickman has said he’s open to discussing the idea with his caucus.

Oklahoma’s Capitol opened in 1917 but years of deferred maintenance have contributed to myriad problems, including pieces of the facade falling from the front of the building. The front steps of the Capitol have been closed for several years to prevent injuries; crumbling pipes beneath the building have resulted in sewage leaking into its basement.

Bingman said it is best to fix the building now rather than kick the project down the road.

Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said legislators bear a responsibility to take care of the people’s property.

“We don’t have a debt problem in our state; we have a prioritization problem and this project needs to be a priority,” he said.

Fallin issued a statement after the vote thanking committee members for supporting the bond package because “a building that should make Oklahomans proud has become an embarrassment.”

The plan next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

___

Online:

Senate Bill 2044: http://bit.ly/1jxxGR4