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Lawmaker opposed to stimulus package

Lawmaker opposed to stimulus package

This article first appeared in the Norman Transcript

By M. Scott Carter

April 01, 2009 02:18 am

— OKLAHOMA CITY --While many state and municipal officials are eager to get their share of the $700 billion federal stimulus package, one state lawmaker wants Gov. Brad Henry to mark the check "return to sender."

Though city leaders across Oklahoma -- including Moore -- await federal funds for many "much needed civic improvements," Owasso Republican state Sen. Randy Brogdon wants every cent of the stimulus money sent back.

Currently, Oklahoma is expected to receive about $2.6 billion in federal stimulus funds -- including more than $400 million for transportation improvements and $287 million for educational funding.

"Give it all back to Obama and the Congress," Brogdon said in a media release. "There are too many strings attached to this plan and we can't afford to rob our children's future in order to take care of our needs today."

Brogdon said the funds should be sent back because the federal government is imposing new, unfunded mandates on the state. He recently filed Senate Joint Resolution 10 to "reaffirm the 10th Amendment of the Constitution" and to force the federal officials "to cease imposing new mandates and regulations that are outside their authority."

However, other state lawmakers disagree.

State Rep. Wallace Collins said officials should use some of the stimulus funds for high-speed rail service.

"Of the stimulus package, about $48 billion has been allocated for transportation improvements -- including $8 billion for building high-speed rail lines," Collins said. "Why should this money go to states that already have a workable rail infrastructure? Why not bring this money to Oklahoma, where it can transform our transportation system?"

Collins, a Democrat, said some hurdles for a state high speed rail line "have already been cleared," and all that is needed is funding.
"This is not a pipe dream," he said. "We have already completed a study for high-speed rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The U.S.

Department of Transportation has designated a high-speed rail corridor connecting Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. We have a chance to use some of the $8 billion in stimulus funds to move this concept forward. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I think we would be wise take advantage of it."

Collins isn't alone. Across the state municipal officials have not only embraced the concept of a federal stimulus package but have submitted millions in funding requests.

In Oklahoma, 10 cities made 233 requests for stimulus money -- totaling $1,746,435,951. Those requests were made through the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to the Web site, stimuluswatch.org. In Moore city officials asked for $38,135,000 for nine projects.
And though not all the projects have been approved, some funds have been allocated.

Moore City Manager Steve Eddy said the city expects to receive $1,537,580 for roadway projects as part of the funds made available to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Eddy said about $600,0000 would be used for asphalt overlays on NW 27th Street between Santa Fe Avenue and Janeway Avenue, on Janeway Avenue between NW 27th Street and NW 12th Street, and NW 12th Street between Janeway Avenue and Santa Fe Avenue.
Another $900,000 would be used to rebuild Telephone Road between SW 4th and NW 5th Streets.

Eddy said $2 million would be earmarked for construction of Moore's new wastewater treatment plant.

"This will be funds that will be awarded as grant funds," he said. "They will, apparently, come in phases as we build it in phases."
Another $454,000 will be used to replace Moore's current traffic signal lighting with energy-efficient units. The funds for that project, Eddy said, will come through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program.

Eddy said Moore officials also would apply for funds to cover the salaries of five new police positions, the cost of replacing a bridge at Interstate 35 and South 34th Street, and to help supplement construction costs of the city's new fire stations.

In Norman the story is similar.

While city officials don't know the fate of the city's entire $85 million request, a few projects have been approved, City Manager Steve Lewis said.

"The only thing we can say for sure is the funds for transportation improvements," Lewis said. "We have about $3.2 million for transportation. We're going to be looking to use that money for street resurfacing projects and some traffic signal improvements. We know for sure that's been granted.

Lewis said Norman officials anticipate receiving additional funds including $150,000 for the police department and another $1.8 million for improvements to the city's wastewater treatment plant.

"Sure, we expect more (federal stimulus funds)," he said. "A lot of the projects that we're looking at are in water and sewer improvements. Some of those will be through grant programs and some loan programs."

Still, while most city officials in the state are hopeful more funds from the stimulus package will be made available soon, Sen. Brogdon said the bill has created too many unfunded mandates.

"There is no such thing as a free lunch, especially when it involves money coming from Congress," Brogdon said. "By accepting this money, Gov. Henry has added millions of dollars of increased mandates that Oklahoma taxpayers must now pay."

Brodgon said the $2.6 billion in federal stimulus dollars amounted "to Gov. Henry taking out a payday loan" to cover the state's debt. "Only it's the taxpayers who are on the hook for the next 20-plus years of interest payments."

Not so, said Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis.
Those stimulus funds, Lewis said, were originally taxpayer funds, and Moore residents want their share back.
"It's our money and we want it back," Glenn Lewis said. "Since we're gonna have to pay that federal income tax already, it would be silly to send the money back."

City leaders, Glenn Lewis said, need those stimulus funds.

"To stick your head in the ground and say send it back would be bad politics for the citizens of Moore," he said. "Those funds directly benefit our citizens. It's just not practical for us, at the city level, to send the funds back."

Brodgon countered the state "cannot afford any more federal mandates.

"I'm not against the federal government helping us out," he said. "But until that money comes stamped with no strings attached, we cannot afford any more federal mandates."

Other leaders said the stimulus funds will put Oklahomans back to work, upgrade infrastructure and would be used to improve state public schools.

Bobby Stem, a spokesman with the Association of General Contractors, said the $380 million in transportation projects will put many Oklahomans to work and help strengthen the state's economy.

"We're weeks away from people going out and putting on brand new boots and starting their new careers in road and bridge building," he said.

State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said $287 million from the stimulus bill has been allotted to Oklahoma schools. Garrett said the funds are earmarked for special education and Title I programs -- programs designed to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students.
She said the state's school superintendents were surprised -- but pleased -- by the stimulus package.

"Number one, they're a little stunned," Garrett said. "They've never had special education fully funded."

State conservation officials said another $25 million in stimulus funds would be rehabilitate high-hazard earthen dams which provide flood protection across the state. Those funds would create 160 to 200 jobs, mostly in rural areas.

And though the call to reject stimulus funds has gained momentum in some portions of the country, Brogdon's proposal to return Oklahoma's share isn't playing too well with most municipal leaders -- be they Democrat or Republican.

"Those are our funds," Glenn Lewis said. "And what really chaps my butt is that some state senators will go along and not pay their speeding tickets and not pay their taxes, but they will tell us to send the stimulus money back. That's just wrong."

M. Scott Carter 366-3545 scarter@mooreamerican.com

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