Woodward, Okla. —
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday that Oklahoma voters should have a chance to weigh in on efforts to improve school safety in the wake of killer tornadoes last year, suggesting a one-time increase in local bond limits as long as the money raised is used for storm shelters or increased safety on campuses.
Local governments are limited in how much debt they can carry, but Fallin suggested allowing school districts a one-time chance to borrow enough money to build shelters or make other improvements.
Speaking at the Associated Press Legislative Forum, a gathering of Capitol leaders held annually before each session of the House and Senate, Fallin said she was heartbroken when seven schoolchildren died during a May 20 storm at Moore.
Many have proposed a state bond issue to raise $500 million, but Fallin said Wednesday that wouldn't be enough money, could cut into other state programs and, at 700 districts, would be moot because they already have shelters.
"There are schools that may already have safe rooms that may want to look at other safety needs and evaluate those," she said, suggesting bulletproof glass or metal detectors. "The schools may just want help in reviewing and looking at emergency plans they have in place."
Increasing local bonding authority would require a vote of the people. Fallin said her proposal would set an election for November.
Earlier Wednesday, the head of the Oklahoma Senate said balancing next year's budget will be challenging because Oklahoma hasn't enjoyed economic growth of late. Senate President Brian Bingman said legislators may have to consider tax credit changes and other reforms to balance the state's books for the 2015 fiscal year.
Another issue likely to come up in the session that begins Monday is whether Oklahoma should cut income taxes. The Legislature approved a tax cut last session, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court later found the measure unconstitutional.
House leaders presented different takes on whether Oklahoma should slash income taxes. House Minority Leader Scott Inman said a proposed tax cut would harm state services, but House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Jackson said a reduction would help grow the economy.
Compared to this year's budget, legislators will have about $170 million less to spend on state programs next year.