State high court rules against $25 million bond issue for Tulsa dam improvements
BY WAYNE GREENE and KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that a planned $25 million bond issue to improve the Zink Lake dam on the Arkansas River is unconstitutional.
“The proponents of the bonds go to great lengths to attempt to show that the bond issues will provide the state of Oklahoma not only with economic benefits, but cultural and ecological benefits as well,” the decision written by Justice Yvonne Kauger says. “In reality, the bonds appear to be nothing more than a gift to the city of Tulsa and surrounding communities from the state.”
Such a gift is specifically prohibited by the state Constitution, so the bond financial is not legal, the court found.
This marks the second time the high court has blocked state bond financing for Arkansas River projects in Tulsa County.
In 2008, the Legislature had approved a three-piece bond issue that included construction funding for Tulsa-area dams, the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City and conservation dams in rural areas around the state, but the Supreme Court ruled that the legislation violated the state Constitution’s prohibition of packaging multiple pieces of legislation in a single bill, also known as “logrolling.” Only funding for the cultural center was allowed to move ahead.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said he strongly disagreed with court’s decision, questioning whether road projects that benefit specific community could similar be seen as unconstitutional gifts.
“I look at the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City. I think it was partially funded by a bond issue,” Bartlett said. “Does this really bring into question a bridge that goes into a particular community? Is that a gift to that community?”
Enid attorney Cliff Elliott, former chairman of the bond oversight council, argued against the bonds before the Supreme Court earlier this month.
He said the court’s decision says nothing about the merits of the Arkansas River projects, and there is still a possibility for bond financing for the plans, if proponents can find a legal means of structuring the deal.
“I’m hopeful the city will go ahead and make these improvements and structure it in a way that meets the Constitution, and I’m confident that they can because they’re really meritorious projects,” Elliott said. “This was just a structure problem. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the projects. I just hate that they weren’t structured correctly.”
The court found that a lease arrangement on dam improvements between the River Parks Authority and the state Department of Central Services wasn’t sufficient to give the state a legitimate interest in the project.
Referring to the lease as “fictional,” the court found that “the State’s involvement in this project exists only to lend its credit to and make a donation for the benefit of the municipality.”
Read more on this story in Wednesday's Tulsa World.
Zink Lake back in January. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World File