DALLAS -- Oklahoma lawmakers <

are expected to pass a bill this week seeking approval of a $350 million general obligation bond program this fall from voters who have not backed new debt since 1968.

A spokesman said Gov. David <

Walters today will sign bills authorizing two of the four new revenue streams that will secure the double-barrel GO bonds if they are approved on Nov. 3. A third revenue source approved by lawmakers has yet to reach the governor's desk.

The governor and legislative <

leaders earlier this month agreed to seek voter approval of a $350 million bond plan after a long debate over what revenues would pay an estimated $28.2 million in annual debt service.

State officials yesterday said lawmakers <

will pass enabling legislation before closing the spring session on Friday.

"I think the fact that the Legislature <

has already acted on three of the revenue sources for the bond issue is a sign of their support," said Jim Joseph, Oklahoma's bond adviser. "They're just hammering out the mechanics of it now."

Gov. Walters and legislative leaders <

failed to put a GO program before voters last year because of differences over how to secure the bonds. However, earlier this month, the two sides agreed on four specific revenue sources to pay for the bonds.

The state's outstanding GO debt, <

which will be retired by 1996, is backed by a pledge of all state revenues but secured directly by a portion of the state's cigarette tax. As the debt has been paid down, lawmakers have begun using the tax for general fund needs.

To secure any new bonds, lawmakers <

have agreed to use about $5 million of unencumbered cigarette taxes, $9.2 million from a 1 1/2-cent excise tax on bingo, $10.5 million from a gross receipts tax on charity game tickets, and $3.5 million of revenues resulting from a compact with Indian smoke shops.

While the final decision on how to <

allocate the bond proceeds is pending, the governor has supported dedicating $230 million to higher education capital needs, $50 million to economic development, $40 million to local education, and $30 million to prisons and other projects.

If approved by lawmakers and <

passed by voters, the bill would create an eight-member Oklahoma Building Bonds Commission to sell bonds with maturities of up to 25 years. The issues would be subject to the final approval of the state's dual bond oversight commissions.

The bill would also create a first-ever <

capital projects fund that would grow if dedicated revenues exceeded debt service requirements. The fund would be the first source of moneys to cover any debt service shortfalls on the bonds.

"That's just one more layer of security," <

said Mr. Joseph, whose state is double-A rated. "I don't think the fund is going to accumulate into a great amount unless the Legislature chooses to appropriate money to it."

He said the fund would give Oklahoma <

dedicated moneys to pay for capital needs and would complement the creation of a capital needs commission that would study project needs in the state and recommend programs.

The commission, whose staff <

work would be handled by the bond adviser's office, is the first-ever effort by Oklahoma to do long-range capital planning.

Major capital programs in Oklahoma <

have been sparse, largely because of a lack of voter support. Taxpayers last authorized a debt sale in 1968 when then-Gov. Dewey Bartlett backed a $99.8 million bond plan called Health and Education for a Richer Oklahoma.

Like the latest plan, the HERO <

program dedicates much of its funds to higher education projects.

"Nearly a quarter of a century <

has gone by since we last invested in our state's educational, economic development, and law enforcement infrastructure," Gov. Walters said last week. "Many of our state facilities have been steadily deteriorating, and the time has come for Oklahoma to commit to both our

present needs and our children's

future."

To build public support for the <

program, the governor has been promoting the plan as an opportunity to invest in Oklahoma by stressing that some of the bonds would be sold as college savers.

Lawmakers could authorize the <

sale of up to $100 million of zero coupon debt -- in denominations of $1,000 in varying maturities -- to encourage taxpayers to invest now to pay for college.

"The legislation clearly indicates <

that the target is Oklahoma investors," Mr. Joseph said.

<

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.