Oil prices are on the rebound, which should eventually generate revenue and help Oklahoma’s state budget situation. Still, another budget hole — that could be as large as $600 million — will likely have to be filled during the 2017 legislative session. One emerging idea that could put an extra billion dollars in state coffers: Selling the Grand River Dam Authority.
eCapitol reports newly appointed House Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn and Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat intend to introduce a bill to clear a path for the sale of GRDA’s assets, like its hydroelectric dams.
“This is not necessarily a bill to sell the GRDA,” said Osborn, R-Mustang. But during tough budget times, we need to have a plan in place should the need arise. We have several assets that are not a core function of state government. The GRDA could be worth more than a billion dollars, and it would be imprudent for the Legislature to not consider creative ways to raise money to fund core services. This legislation does not mandate a sale; it enables the state to sell the asset if it was decided it was in the best interest of the state and its citizens.”
The GRDA is a state-owned, non-appropriated, non-profit utility that provides power to northeast Oklahoma from three hydroelectric power plants at Grand Lake and Lake Hudson, as well as a coal-fired power plant near Chouteau, Oklahoma.
GRDA also has important water distribution monitoring duties, and as StateImpact reported last spring, just absorbed the responsibilities of the now-defunct Scenic Rivers Commission, which was charged with preserving and policing some of Oklahoma’s most sensitive and economically vital waterways. It’s unclear how the privatization of the agency would affect the state’s six scenic rivers.
A bill has not been filed, but there’s already pushback to the idea.On Monday, Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, released a statement warning that the sale of the GRDA could spell economic doom for northeastern Oklahoma’s economy:
The GRDA is not only an essential supplier of electricity for 24 counties in Oklahoma and in three other states, it keeps the price of power affordable in a depressed region that needs that edge for economic and community development. In addition, the GRDA manages water consumption by 700,000 people, irrigation, navigation and recreation. It invests in water quality, fish and wildlife enhancement, public safety, lake patrols, land use management and air quality improvements. It is much more than an “asset” to be sold to fill a budget gap.
The Grand River Dam Authority is working like it was designed to work and its sale has the potential of rendering devastation to the economy of northeastern Oklahoma.
Perryman points out this isn’t the first time selling the GRDA has been floated as a way to generate more money for the state. In 2013, Gov. Mary Fallin formed a task force to study its sale, and failed bills in the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions would have authorized the sale of the agency’s property and diverted some of GRDA’s revenue to the state.