(Oklahoma City) Legislative leaders are urging Oklahoma tourism officials to use a new state law and other emergency measures at their disposal to address state park sewage problems, instead of requesting a costly and unnecessary special session of the Legislature to address the issue.
In a letter to the Tourism and Recreation Commission, House Speaker Larry Adair (D-Stilwell) and Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor (D-Claremore) noted that tourism already has the authority to initiate a bond issue to repair the parks. The two leaders also pointed out that the Department of Environmental Quality is helping devise some immediate, short-term solutions that will keep the park facilities open without endangering the public.
"Tourism already possesses the tools it needs to address the problems at the parks. We think that it could implement a solution in a much faster and cheaper fashion than the Legislature could in a special session," said Sen. Taylor.
"We want to repair the parks and keep all of the facilities open to the public. We believe if the tourism commission makes use of the bond authority granted by the Legislature and works closely with DEQ on a short-term solution, the current emergency situation can be resolved. Given the tools tourism has at its disposal, there is no need for a special session," said Speaker Adair.
Earlier this year, the Legislature and Governor Frank Keating approved SB 1271 a new law that authorizes the tourism commission to issue revenue bonds for capital needs, such as the remediation of sewage problems at state parks.
In their latest letter, legislative leaders urged tourism officials to make use of the bond issue statute and pledged to provide the necessary funding to cover debt service next year if the department is unable to generate sufficient funds.
State leaders had hoped to directly address state park needs this legislative session, but an unexpected $350 million budget shortfall prevented them from providing additional money to tourism. Instead, the Legislature and Governor Keating opted to protect priority areas such as public education and health care, while instituting cuts in other state agencies.
Because of the state's budget woes, both Adair and Taylor believe the SB 1271 bond issue and DEQ's emergency remediation proposals are the only feasible ways to address the park sewage issues and keep the areas in question open to the public.
"Unfortunately, revenue is in short supply, whether it's for tourism or public education. With the state treading water on the budget, the bond issue is our best and perhaps only hope for the park situation," said Sen. Taylor.
"We have to make do with what we have. Fortunately, we do have a mechanism available to address the sewage problems at the state park facilities. We need to make use of that mechanism and keep our recreational areas open to the public," said Speaker Adair.
The DEQ has threatened to shut down the restrooms at several state parks and recreational areas unless sewage problems are corrected. The Tourism and Recreation Commission has scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday, July 3rd, to discuss the issue.