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OK Speaker Concerned About Stimulus Funding

OK Speaker Concerned About Stimulus Funding

Journal Record: Capitol
Speaker concerned about stimulus
February 20, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Chris Benge said Friday he is concerned about the size of the federal government’s $787 billion stimulus spending plan but believes the state will benefit from the program.

Benge also said the federal government should follow Oklahoma’s fiscal example and exercise responsibility and restraint when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.

“There was tremendous pressure to spend more money when we had it,” said Benge, R-Tulsa. “I think we’ve been a very good example.”

The state is expected to receive more than $2.6 billion from the federal stimulus package at a time when it faces a budget shortfall of around $900 million. The shortfall includes $612 million in declining revenue because of falling energy prices and the national recession and one-time funds used a year ago that are no longer available.

Benge said he is concerned that strings may be attached to the federal money that will force the state to increase spending. He said he does not want lawmakers not to fill holes in the state budget with stimulus money that will not be available in future years.

“We cannot build a hole in our state budget,” he said.

He also expressed concern about the affordability of the federal program.

“How are we going to pay for this as a nation?” Benge said. “We have some concerns on the spending side.”

Benge said the stimulus money will add value to the state, especially a $465 million allocation for road and bridge construction that he said will create jobs in the short term and improve the state’s transportation infrastructure. The state will receive an additional $39 million for transit projects.

Transportation officials have said work could begin as early as mid-April on projects funded by the stimulus plan.

“It will really complement what we’ve already done,” Benge said.

Last year, lawmakers approved a bond issue that included up to $300 million for projects in the Department of Transportation’s eight-year road and bridge improvement plan.

The bond program directs $275 million to preserve the agency’s maintenance plan to be raised by two separate bond issues this year and in 2010. The remaining $25 million is dedicated to a revolving fund for county roads.

Three years ago, lawmakers passed legislation authorizing $17.5 million a year in new spending on roads and bridges and another $32.5 million if economic growth pushed state revenue up at least 3 percent over the prior year.

But lawmakers agreed last year to remove the trigger in 2010, eliminate the $17.5 million floor appropriation and provide roads and bridges with a consistent $30 million increase in funding each year until the cap in new funds is reached.

The plan also increased the roads fund cap from $270 million to $370 million by 2016, with that amount allocated each year afterward. Under the plan, roads and bridges would receive $2.3 billion in appropriations over the next eight years.

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