- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A $120 million bond issue to repair and renovate Oklahoma’s nearly 100-year-old state Capitol building was approved Thursday by the state House, but opponents said it is likely to be challenged in court.

The House voted 55-34 for the bond issue and sent it to the Senate, which is expected to consider the measure Friday. Previous bond issue proposals for Capitol repairs and improvements have easily passed the Senate.

The bill by House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, was a compromise developed by members of the House, where a $160 million, 25-year bond proposal for Capitol repairs was rejected last month. Hickman says the 10-year plan will save between $80 million and $100 million in interest payments over the life of the bond issue.

Hickman said it is likely that architects and engineers responsible for designing the Capitol improvements will encounter issues not anticipated by the original $120 million estimated cost of the project.

“We need to begin the journey,” Hickman said. “We have delayed and put off beyond belief taking care of this building.”

Oklahoma’s Capitol opened in 1917 - a decade after statehood - and years of deferred maintenance have contributed to electrical, plumbing and a variety of other problems.

Parts of the 452,000-square-foot building have been cordoned off by yellow barricades since 2011 to prevent pedestrians from approaching the building’s south side, where chunks of limestone and mortar have fallen from the building’s facade. Two weeks ago, a four-pound chunk of concrete crashed through an employee’s basement office, which has since been evacuated.

A detailed examination of the building found that a concrete beam above the south portico is crushing the brick that supports it, as well as antiquated piping, plumbing and electrical wiring. There is also extensive cracking of the terrazzo floor in the building’s lower level.

Hickman said the building is a matter of pride for Oklahomans and its deteriorating condition is “a bit embarrassing.”

“They want something done with their Capitol building. It’s a symbol of our state,” Hickman said. “We have to do something about this building.”

Opponents agreed that the building needs to be repaired but disagreed with the plan to go into debt to do it.

“That is fiscal hypocrisy. And I’ve had enough,” said Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Oklahoma City, who supported paying for the project with annual revenue appropriations. Inman said it did not make financial sense to sell bonds when the state faced a $188 million budget shortfall and the Legislature had passed legislation to cut the state income tax.

“It’s fiscal insanity,” Inman said. “We can afford to cut taxes, but we can’t afford to pay as you go.”

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, said the bond issue plan can only be implemented with a statewide vote of the people and predicted it will face a legal challenge.

“It’s just not constitutional,” Reynolds said. “It stinks. I have absolutely no doubt that this will be challenged.”

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