State Question 764 is a statewide measure on Oklahoma’s November 2012 ballot.
This measure amends a section of the state constitution to allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue $300 million in bonds for water, storm water and sewage projects.
A ‘yes’ vote on SQ 764 means the OWRB would be given the authority to issue the bonds, and that the legislature would appropriate money for the bonds and a means to issue them.
A ‘no’ vote means no bonds for the OWRB.
In October 2011, the OWRB released its Comprehensive Water Plan, which, among other things, recommends the state keep its overall water usage to 2012 levels while maintaining growth for the next 50 years.
To keep water usage levels static while serving more and more users each year, water authorities have to make sure their systems are as efficient as possible. But officials with smaller water districts say their aging water infrastructure isn’t as good as their big-city counterparts, and complain that they lack robust funding mechanisms. Older systems are inefficient and waste water, David Ocamb with the Sierra Club tells KOSU’s Michael Cross.
The OWRB has been giving hundreds of loans to small water districts since the 1980s, which Tulsa World‘s Wayne Greene reports, “have resulted in a handful of defaults,” but none serious enough to require additional appropriations:
The only problem with the program, says state Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, is that it isn’t nearly big enough.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute championed SQ 764 in a blog post, writing:
OWRB’s loan programs are a necessity for small Oklahoma towns that do not have the capital to fund expensive, yet vital water infrastructure projects. The OWRB’s bond rating allows them to borrow and finance loans with lower interest rates than many small Oklahoma towns can access.
Free market-minded lawmakers, Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise and officials in some smaller water districts are wary of SQ 764. Critics have several concerns, namely funding, oversight, and specific projects.
Funding and Oversight
If SQ 764 passes, smaller municipalities could fund water projects by going through the OWRB instead of issuing their own bonds. Basically: They could piggyback on the state’s good bond rating instead of using their own — potentially not as good — credit structure.
State Rep. Mike Reynolds tells the World that SQ 764 means the state is risking its own credit rating to help cities build infrastructure:
“They want to wreck the state’s credit and rely on the state’s interest rate,” Reynold said.
If cities need water infrastructure, they should finance it themselves, Reynolds tells the Tulsa paper. The OWRB is an unelected entity, and Amanda Teegarden with OK-Safe says the state shouldn’t be “giving its credit card to an organization with no oversight,” KOSU reports.
If passed, SQ 764 could fund all sorts of water projects. And at least one state lawmaker is worried about funding any project that might move water from their district to other parts of the state — or be sold to another state:
“I think that’s an effort to work on this transfer of water from southeastern Oklahoma to central Oklahoma and on to Texas because it was such a huge amount of money,” Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, tells KOSU.