While Governor Keating was asking motorists to pay higher tolls to build two new urban toll roads this summer, his appointees at the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority were sitting on a cash surplus of more than $62 million, according to a new Senate analysis of OTA books.
"I was floored when I saw the size of the cash surplus over there," said Senator Keith Leftwich, who requested the analysis. The Oklahoma City legislator is leading an interim study of Governor Keating's turnpike program and the OTA itself.
"All this time Governor Keating has been telling us we have to raise tolls to build his turnpikes, but now we find out the OTA is sitting on $62 million. I want to know why that money wasn't figured into the Governor's toll road construction program."
The OTA's annual revenue intake, produced by tolls and investments, is divided into four general categories: 1) operations and general maintenance, 2) debt payment, 3) special maintenance and 4) general fund (surplus). The first three categories finance all turnpike maintenance and operations required by OTA bond agreements, leaving the general fund as surplus revenue.
Using documents provided by the OTA, the Senate analysis found that the turnpike authority will accrue $20 million in surplus general funds in 1996, bringing its carryover surplus total to $61.8 million.
If no expenditures are made from the surplus fund, it is projected to hold $94.6 million in two years, $114.8 million in three years and $137.9 million in four years. By the year 2004, it will hold $233 million.
OTA General Fund Surplus (projected) 1996...........$ 61.8 million
1997...........$ 77.3 million
1998.......... $ 94.6 million
2000.......... $137.9 million
2001.......... $159.2 million
2002.......... $182.2 million
2003.......... $206.9 million
2004.......... $233.1 million
"I don't think anyone outside of the OTA or the Keating administration realized they were generating that much surplus money. It looks like Governor Keating could build his new turnpikes with cash and no toll increase on existing 'pikes if he were just patient and waited a few years," said Senator Leftwich.
"That approach would save the state millions of dollars in interest payments and complete the urban loops we need."
The OTA's general fund surplus moneys have generally been reserved for unexpected repairs or emergencies, but beginning in 1995, the OTA began dipping into the reserve fund to finance additional projects not required by the authority's bond agreement.
"With a major turnpike construction program on the drawing board, I'm not sure why the OTA suddenly began spending surplus money on new projects that aren't required by the state's bond agreement. It seems like they would want to be saving money to build the proposed expansions in Tulsa and Oklahoma City," said Senator Leftwich.
"These are issues we need the OTA to address."
Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb, who runs both the OTA and ODOT, will appear before Senator Leftwich's interim committee next week to answer questions about the Governor's toll road program and the turnpike authority.
Governor Keating has proposed two new urban turnpikes in Tulsa and Oklahoma City to be financed by a 10 percent toll hike statewide. The bond oversight commissions are currently waiting for the OTA to respond to questions about the project so they can determine its feasibility.