Bond oversight council OKs $116 million package despite objections
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Friday, February 01, 2013
2/01/13 at 8:02 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Council of Bond Oversight approved plans Thursday to sell $116 million in higher education bonds, including money to build a new home for the state Medical Examiner's Office, despite objections raised by a lawmaker and others.
"This matter needs to go before the Legislature for its consideration," Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, told the council. "That's the appropriate way for this matter to be handled."
Despite Anderson's urging, the council approved the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Master Lease program, most of which is dedicated to buildings on state college and university campuses with the debt guaranteed through revenues such as student fees.
The controversial element of the Master Lease program is $38.5 million for a new state Medical Examiner's Office on the University of Central Oklahoma campus in Edmond.
The UCO project is only backed with the possibility of future state appropriations to the Medical Examiner's Office, which the Legislature hasn't approved.
Because the Legislature has not approved the Medical Examiner's Office plan, it is unconstitutional, putting the rest of the program in peril of being killed in a court challenge, Anderson said.
"It's the bad apple that spoils the whole barrel," he said.
The board approved the bonding for the Medical Examiner's Office building contingent on the Legislature voting to agree to back the debt with appropriations for rent payments by the office, but Anderson said that wouldn't solve the plan's legal problem.
"I'm confident it will be challenged in court if it does not go through a proper process," he said.
Last year, Anderson successfully used an Oklahoma Supreme Court challenge to block a $25 million bond issue to fund Arkansas River improvements.
Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, who also has successfully challenged past bond issues, also challenged the Master Lease program on a broader scale before the council Thursday.
"Your program is unconstitutional in its creation, and that's all I have to say," Fent told the council.
Although he didn't discuss details of a possible court challenge, Fent indicated that his objections go beyond the Medical Examiner's Office program.
Council member Gary Huckabay voted for the bond program, explaining that many of the issues argued before the council were not in its authority to rectify.
After State Bond Advisor Jim Joseph and the council's attorney said the Master Lease program appeared to be legal, Huckabay said it had to be approved.
"I don't see how we could prohibit this as long as the things that have been done are legal," Huckabay said. "I kind of feel like we're between a rock and a hard place."
Joseph said the Master Lease program has never been tested before the state Supreme Court, but many of the mechanisms that it uses have been successfully defended there in other state bonding programs.
Original Print Headline: Higher ed bonds are OK'd; foe vows battle
Wayne Greene (918) 581-8308
Sen. Patrick Anderson: A program that includes a new state Medical Examiner's Office in Edmond "needs to go before the Legislature," not just the state bond oversight panel, the Enid Republican said