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Governor: Happy to see money, stimulus funds stay

Governor: Happy to see money, stimulus funds stay

Governor: Happy to see money, stimulus funds stay

March 30, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Brad Henry will keep the $250 million in stimulus money the federal government sent for transportation projects. He’s happy to see the money. But he’s a little nervous about it too.

“If there’s a problem, it falls in my lap,” said Henry at a Friday press conference. “I’m the one who has signed the certifications and the assurances directly to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the federal government. So I certainly have a vested interest to make sure everything goes smoothly and appropriately, that all these dollars are spent in the correct way, that there’s openness and transparency in this process. And that’s precisely why I formed the oversight council.”

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation will make the first awards to transportation contractors March 30.

It is the largest letting the state has ever handled by far, said ODOT Director Gary Ridley, yet the department will have managed to send out notice for bids, accept and review bids, and award contracts in 28 days.

Ridley said ODOT moved quickly to take advantage of the warm spring and summer months for construction. When it became apparent last fall that there would be a federal stimulus package for transportation, Henry met with Ridley and state Transportation Secretary Phil Tomlinson to discuss how to ensure the state was ready when the money became available.

Instead of creating new projects for the stimulus money, Ridley said transportation officials went to ODOT’s eight-year plan and accelerated the letting dates for projects that otherwise would not have been started until next year or later. Projects perceived to have the biggest effect on the statewide system were given priority. Out of $1.1 billion of projects, the agency selected just enough work to make use of the $250 million from the stimulus package.

Henry last week formed a panel of state agency heads and cabinet secretaries to oversee the $2.6 billion in stimulus funds coming to Oklahoma as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“We want to make sure we don’t miss anything,” said Henry, “no opportunities or any reporting requirements that are handed down from the federal government. And we want to make sure that we all know what each other is doing, that everybody is on the same page. Because there’s a real potential for each of these agencies to start doing their own thing and not keep the Legislature informed, to not keep me or other cabinet secretaries and agency heads informed, so we’re trying to head that off with the oversight council.”

Despite the worries that accompany the money, Henry said he’s not giving it up – despite a rising cry from Republican lawmakers to reject the federal assistance. Henry said he and the members of the Legislature who don’t want Oklahoma to accept the money are just going to have to agree to disagree.

“If we turn down these transportation dollars or health care dollars or some other stimulus funding, then those dollars will simply be spent in another state,” said Henry. “I would much rather see us building our infrastructure system, our roads and bridges here in Oklahoma than watching Texas, for instance, build roads and bridges with dollars that should have come to Oklahoma.”

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