- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Legislation that authorized a $120 million bond issue to renovate and repair Oklahoma’s crumbling Capitol building does not violate the state constitution, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In a unanimous decision, the nine-member court rejected allegations that the bond legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in May, was an unconstitutional special law that should be struck down.

“…The court finds the proposed bond issue submitted by The Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority cannot reasonably be considered a special law, nor otherwise contrary to law,” the court’s one-page order says.

State officials praised the decision and said it clears the way for the state to begin the process of issuing the bonds, which will be retired over 10 years.

“The state Capitol has suffered decades of neglect which has resulted in unnecessary hazards for employees and visitors,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, principal author of the bond issue legislation.

“With this decision in hand, we can move forward to restore the people’s Capitol to a condition in which all Oklahomans can once again take great pride,” Hickman said.

Trait Thompson, manager of the state Capitol restoration project, said the court challenge caused only a slight delay in the project as engineers and restoration specialists continued to investigate the condition of the nearly 100-year-old Capitol building.

“Exterior work should begin in the spring, just a few weeks later than initially thought. Interior work was unaffected by this review and should begin in 2016 as planned,” Thompson said.

The Capitol Improvement Authority asked the Supreme Court for guidance on whether to issue the bonds after Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent announced plans to protest them. Fent claimed the bill authorizing the bond issue was unconstitutional because it addressed only one state building.

But attorneys for the state said the bill was a universal general law that applies to a unique building that serves as both the seat of state government and as a symbol of Oklahoma.

Fent, who has a history of successfully challenging legislative actions, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

“They didn’t even mention my arguments,” Fent said. Fent has five days to seek a rehearing, but he said he has not decided whether he will request another review by the court.

The 452,000-square-foot building, built between 1914 and 1917, features valuable artwork, polished marble floors and a massive dome that was added in 2002. But behind the walls are major problems that include a plumbing system with rotting pipes and a hodgepodge of electrical systems. There is also extensive cracking of the terrazzo floor in the building’s lower level.

The most notable sign of problems is a bright yellow barricade that prevents pedestrians from approaching the grand staircase on the south side, where chunks of limestone and mortar have fallen from the building’s facade.

Earlier this year, a piece of concrete crashed through a state worker’s office after moisture leaked into the basement of the building. The incident occurred during a weekend when the office was vacant and no one was injured.

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