Senate Bill 192 proposed by Senator Mike Schulz (R-Altus) aims to “generate revenues and economic activity while mitigating toll increases and potentially decrease toll charges” by allowing the Turnpike Authority to consider “real estate and economic development projects” as Turnpike projects.
Why is that important? Look at the state laws regarding the Turnpike Authority:
the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, as created in Section 1703 of this title, is hereby authorized and empowered to construct, maintain, repair, and operate turnpike projects as defined in Section 1704 of this title, at such locations as shall be approved by the Transportation Commission, and to issue turnpike revenue bonds of the Authority payable solely from revenues to pay the cost of such projects.
Under Schulz’ proposal, the OTA would be able to issue bonds for real estate and economic development projects. There is no doubt that economic development would be welcome along Oklahoma’s turnpikes. The question is whether this is the best way to go about it.
A core conservative principle is that the private sector is far more efficient than the government when it comes to creating jobs and economic development. So why not have the government get out of the way and let the free market take over?
According to the FAQ page on the OTA’s website, the OTA has $1.2-billion in debt that will be paid off in 2028, provided no further debt is incurred. What if the state were to make a concerted effort to pay that off far sooner? What if the bonds were paid off by 2017? Could we then dismantle the Turnpike Authority, turn control of maintenance over to ODOT and start building more exits with gas stations and other amenities? How much growth would happen just along the I-44 corridor between Oklahoma City and Tulsa?
Supporting economic development in general is a good idea. But the state should be encouraging it, not overseeing it.