Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pay-As-You-Go Road Districts and Guarding the Initiative Petition Process

In 2007, I was contacted by a member of a rural Logan County road district who explained that one of the big challenges facing the district was Oklahoma's statutory scheme which encourages public boards to incur debt for their long-term projects instead of allowing them to participate in a pay-as-you-go project where no debts would be incurred.

He asked me to sponsor a bill that would allow them to avoid this unnecessary debt. The principle, while simple to explain, is somewhat complicated to express in statutory language and the bill was defeated when I introduced it to the House in 2008. I brought the bill back for consideration this year, and with the help of Senate author Randy Brogdon, we were able to win legislative approval.

The pay-as-you-go principle is a fantastic plan. I believe that all levels of government entities incur debt too often and pay millions of dollars in unnecessary interest. The savings from implementing House Bill 1294 will stay in the people’s pockets where it belongs, instead of being used to go to unnecessary fees and interest.

Another interesting aspect about this bill is that it exposes the fact that state statutes tend to encourage public boards to issue bonded indebtedness. If the no-debt concept can be proven to work in a road district, it might be able to be expanded to cities, counties, public trusts and school boards that wish to fund capital improvements.

And, of course, I am happy that it better enables road districts to improve their roads. Anyone in Logan County can tell you about the deplorable condition of many county roads and this is a tool that will hopefully help to solve that problem.

Another bill I authored and that was recently approved by the legislature is Senate Bill 800 which was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Anthony Sykes.

I am a big believer in the right of Oklahomans to take action through the initiative petition process, despite inaction from the legislature. It is through this process that important reforms have occurred in the past, such as legislative term limits and a cap on the ability of legislators to raise taxes.

The opponents of these petitions can sometimes simply wait until the petitioners go through the time and expense of circulating a petition and then challenge the petition in court based on minor technicalities, such as a mistake in the wording of the ballot title, for example. You can imagine how this serves as a deterrent to those who wish to circulate a petition because they fear investing the time and money to pass the petition when it could be thrown out because of a small technicality.

SB 800 separates the protest process of the petition's validity based on the quality of the signatures from the protest of the ballot title. This means that in order to throw out a petition for technical reasons, a protest must occur before the petition is passed out. This has the positive affect of allowing both the circulators and the signatories of a petition to know that the petition they are working on is valid.

This is a positive reform that will help protect one of our rights as citizens to change bad laws through the initiative petition process.

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