By Sen. Rob Standridge
We have a problem in Oklahoma – too many needs and not enough revenue. Our biggest financial challenge is properly funding our education system.
Oklahoma’s education system, which encompasses common education, higher education and career tech, receives nearly 51 percent of the state’s budget each year. However, the state Department of Education asks for tens of millions of dollars in additional funding every year. This year was no different as the agency requested an additional $200 million. Last session, we were able to shift one-time monies to provide common education with an additional $105 million. This year, however, those funds are no longer available and the state legislature will also have more than $600 million less to appropriate than it did last year.
So education wants more and we have even less this year. This is going to be a continuous cycle until we create a new source of funding. I’d like to create a public education trust similar to the trust that funds Insure Oklahoma; and I believe we could obtain the funds by selling the electric generation and transmission facilities owned and operated by the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA), which could be worth as much as $1 billion.
This year, I’ve filed Senate Bill 188, which I hope will start a conversation concerning GRDA and its many assets and also decide if privatizing those assets could help create funds for the education trust. My bill would not eliminate the GRDA or any of its hydrogenation facilities including the Pensacola Dam and the various components of Grand Lake.
I don’t believe the government should be in the business of making money yet this agency is extremely profitable and continues expanding and obtaining more assets.
The GRDA is a non-appropriated agency of the state that utilizes revenues earned as a public power agency to finance its activities as a conservation and reclamation district. GRDA directly serves 16 Oklahoma municipal customers and two more in neighboring states that own and operate their own distribution systems. It also provides power and energy to off-system firms including Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) and the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority (OMPA).
Whether we want to discuss assets such as GRDA or off-the-top spending, the legislature must begin looking at options in order to properly fund the core functions of government - education being one of the highest priorities.