Senator Anderson questions Higher Ed bonding for Medical Examiner’s Office at UCO

At Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Education, members reviewed a package of bond proposals the Regents for Higher Education plan to issue in 2012. 

Authority to issue bonds was granted in the Higher Education system several years ago, but legislators have scrutinized bond spending to avoid unnecessary debt. 

Before the hearing, Senator Patrick Anderson, an Enid Republican, had expressed opposition to a $42 million bond allowing the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) could construct a 45,000 square foot building for the State Medical Examiner’s Office.

In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK before the hearing, Anderson said, “The Real Property Master Lease Program was designed to allow colleges and universities to fix roofs and replace air conditioners — not construct new buildings for other state agencies.

“In my mind, this is an intentional attempt to circumvent the legislative process. By utilizing the Master Lease Program, a $42 million bond may be issued without most legislators even knowing that it happened, because only the governor, the speaker of the house and the senate president pro tem are required to be notified of the projects.”

This particular bond measure was first raised last year. However, state Sen. James Halligan of Stillwater, chairman of the subcommittee, held a hearing in which members learned that a legislator (not the university) had asked for the bond issue to finance the ME’s facility. 

In comments before the hearing, Anderson said, “There may very well be a need to build a new Medical Examiner’s facility, but this is not the proper way to address this issue. Furthermore, I question the need to construct any building at the cost of $933 per square foot.”

When the proposal was discussed before Halligan’s subcommittee on Wednesday, members pressed for the name of the legislator who had requested the UCO/ME project be added to the Higher Ed bond list. Barbara Hoberock of the Tulsa World reported Thursday that Amanda Paliotta, a vice chancellor for the Higher Regents, told the subcommittee the request had come from state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond.

Jolley is chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committee. A significant number of senators, perhaps a majority, believe the Higher Ed bond authority should be used for educational purposes, not to finance construction of state agency offices.