Once in a while, I run across a law that makes my head hurt. A perfect example of one of these laws is Senate Bill 1347 which was signed into law in 2004. To see the effect of this law, I would suggest a drive down Memorial Road at the site of the new Broadway overpass. You will notice a series of elaborately designed artwork to aesthetically improve the new overpass.
Because I represent a growth area where local officials are desperate to fund the construction of roads, I cannot help but think that had the Transportation Department just been allowed to build a normal underpass without all of the associated artwork, the thousands of dollars wasted could be used to pave miles of desperately needy roads. Does anyone seriously think that the state of Oklahoma roads and bridges is so good that we can waste thousands of dollars with artwork on the new bridges?
Senate Bill 1347 requires that 1.5 percent of a construction budget for new buildings or renovations be spent for artwork. A significant number of the state's new construction projects are funded through millions of dollars of debt. This means that generations of Oklahomans could be trying to pay off the bill that comes with these art projects.
Earlier this year, the Director of the State Department of Agriculture testified before an Appropriation Sub-committee upon which I serve. He can point to the fact that a 5 percent reduction in his agency budget is actually a more significant discretionary spending reduction in percentage terms because he cannot lower the bond payments for his building. He stated that the bond/rent payments for his building were going to be very challenging for his department to deal with.
The department's building was recently constructed according to the requirements set forth in Senate Bill 1347. These requirements necessitated the construction of an outdoor plaza with monoliths carved in granite and an accompanying sculpture. The design reflects the work of the department, from livestock to crops to a larger-than-life plow.
In this day, when government taxation is so high and debt at all levels of government is skyrocketing, in my view it is insane to engage in this type of waste. This unfortunate legislative mandate is forcing state agencies to participate in a wasteful spending spree that will haunt Oklahoma policy makers for years to come. The Legislature should right this wrong and repeal the mandate as soon as possible.