OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A bond program used by Oklahoma colleges and universities to fund more than $600 million in buildings and projects at campuses across the state over the last decade is unconstitutional and should be discontinued, an Oklahoma City attorney alleges in a court filing on Thursday.
Jerry Fent, an attorney who has successfully challenged legislative actions before, claims in a legal brief filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court that the state's Master Lease Program is illegal because its creation by the Legislature in 2002 was included in an appropriations bill. Fent claims this is an example of "logrolling" because it violates a provision of the Oklahoma constitution that requires bills to address only one subject.
"I am alleging in my answer that the master lease program was unconstitutional in its existence in 2002," Fent said. "All the bonds that they've sold, and they've sold more than $600 million in bonds since 2002, are unconstitutional. This is a big case ... the repercussions are major."
A state agency that issues the bonds, the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority, asked the state Supreme Court last month to approve a series of higher education bonds for equipment and property, including a $38.5 million, 30-year bond for the construction of a new medical examiner's office at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
"The Oklahoma colleges and universities rely on the Master Lease Program as a primary source for the financing and refinancing of equipment and real property projects," an attorney for ODFA wrote in its application to the state's highest court. "Most, if not all Oklahoma colleges and universities, have participated in the Master Lease Program."
Earlier this week, state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, filed a legal brief challenging the application to use the fund to finance the construction of the medical examiner's office. Anderson, a lawyer who has long argued that the fund should only be used to finance college and university-related projects, wrote that the Legislature could have allocated the funding for the medical examiner's office, but chose not to.
"I believe that if this new method of issuing bonds to construct buildings for state agencies were allowed it would open Pandora's Box to unlimited abuses of the Master Lease program by other legislators in an attempt to avoid the existing constitutional and legislative requirements for issuing bonded indebtedness," Anderson wrote. "Need to build a new state prison or want to build a new state owned museum? Well then find a college campus with some extra land and build the facility through the Master Lease program."
A hearing on the matter before a Supreme Court referee is scheduled for June 27.
Sean Murphy can be reached at https://twitter.com/apseanmurphy