The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 19, 2013

NORCE left out: New legislative proposal ignores mid-sized cities, but pays for Tulsa, OKC projects


Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Oklahoma legislative leaders appear to be fast-tracking proposals to pay for major building projects in the state’s two metropolitan areas, unfairly leaving out other building needs – such as improvements at Northern Oklahoma Resource Center Enid.

Late last week, a Senate budget committee approved companion bills that would allocate $40 million for a much-touted Oklahoma pop culture museum in Tulsa and another $40 million for the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City.

The hastily crafted funding plan avoids using a state bond issue, a financing method criticized by many Republican legislators. Instead, it calls for a slightly different spin on that same theme, diverting $80 million in state sales tax and use tax income over the next four years for the two projects.

What’s significant here is what’s left out. The companion bills are crafted just to build favored projects of the state’s two metro areas, thus garnering support from Tulsa and Oklahoma City legislators. Oklahoma’s rural communities separately receive financial assistance, but the state’s mid-sized cities – such as Enid – are left out of this political concoction.

In Enid, the obvious area being overlooked by this legislative deal-making is a modest amount for construction at NORCE that would allow continued service at the state-operated center for severely handicapped individuals. Continued operation of NORCE, now scheduled for closing in 2015, would be doing the right thing for the physically and medically fragile NORCE clients.

The about 400 jobs at NORCE also have an economic impact in Enid that would be proportionately greater than the impact the cultural centers would have on Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

With only a few more days left in this legislative session, timing is critical.

The $80 million plan, just announced Thursday, now goes to a House budget committee, where action is expected as early as this morning.

The twin cultural center funding bills will have considerable support from metropolitan area legislators, but it would be wrong to commit state funds to these projects while ignoring building needs at NORCE.