Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson announced Monday that passage of the Higher Education Bond Issue legislation will be his first priority when the First Session of the Oklahoma Legislature convenes Monday.
Hobson said he has asked Majority Floor Leader Ted Fisher to assign the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee and has asked Appropriations Chairman Mike Morgan and Education Sub-Committee Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield to hear the bill as soon as possible.
“It’s my goal to have the full Senate consider the bill in February,” Hobson said.
The Senate leader is the author of SB 745, which carries the bond plan as outlined by Governor Henry earlier this month.
“An enormous amount of research has already gone into this bill. The bond projects included in this $500 million package represent the priority needs of our state’s colleges and universities. The Governor, the Regents for Higher Education and all 24 college presidents are in support of this measure,” said Hobson, D-Lexington. “It represents the largest economic development program in our state in more than a decade and we should move quickly to hear the bill in committee and get it to the floor for final passage in the Senate early in the session.”
Hobson said Morgan, D-Stillwater, will handle the bill for him in committee and on the senate floor. He announced Monday that Rep. Terry Ingmire, R-Stillwater, will serve as House author of the measure.
“I asked Speaker Hiett in November to join me as author of this measure and sent him a formal request last week. He has yet to respond to this plan. Given the importance of this legislation, I don’t believe it’s prudent to play some kind of political waiting game. I am delighted that Rep. Ingmire has agreed to serve as House author,” Hobson said. Officials estimate the $500 million bond issue will create 4,000 construction jobs and have an immediate $737 million impact on the state’s economy – with projects planned at every college and university in the state.
But its impact won’t end there, Hobson said.
“Building a state-of-the-art learning environment on every campus in Oklahoma will help produce more college graduates in our state and expanding the research capabilities of our colleges will create new job opportunities in the private sector and allow our young people to compete in the global marketplace,” Hobson said.
The Senate Leader said he is confident that earmarked proceeds from the Oklahoma Education Lottery will be sufficient to make debt service payments on the bonds.
“Voters spoke loud and clear on November 2 when they approved the Oklahoma Education Lottery in a landslide. Oklahomans want to invest in future generations by improving education. It’s remarkable to me that those in the Legislature who tried to stop the people from voting on the lottery issue didn’t get that message and are now reluctant to embrace using the lottery proceeds even for such an important purpose,” Hobson said.
The Senate leader said, however, that he is certain the bond issue legislation will garner enough support to win passage in the Senate and that Rep. Ingmire will be able to duplicate the results in the House.
“Passing the Higher Education Bond Issue as quickly as possible is an investment for a brighter future in Oklahoma and funding education first is an important part of our continuing work to make a better tomorrow for our children,” Hobson said.