An attorney challenging the constitutionality of how the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority funds its turnpikes gets his day in court tomorrow. Another group wants its say as well before the Oklahoma Surpreme Court.
High Court Referee Daniel Karim is scheduled to hear the case Tuesday, September 20 at 10:30 am. Attorney Jerry Fent, who lists himself as “A Pike Pass holder and a resident taxpayer of the State of Oklahoma, for all similar persons,” alleges that when the Legislature and OTA determined to build multiple turnpike projects through one legislative measure way back in 1987 – they violated the constitution. The alleged crime is called “logrolling” pooling several measures together instead of considering them singly.
These four (City of Davis to Ada, OKC Outer Loop, Tulsa South and Hwy 33 and US 69) multi-subject turnpikes are together so that the majority of the legislatures wanted the protection that one of the small turnpikes would NOT be built unless ALL others were built. These small turnpikes locations are not sufficient for traffic to pay for itself and thus the history of smaller turnpikes need the big larger ones to finance others. Legislators have problems getting their small turnpikes built by themselves. Putting all four in one Bond Issue was a solution and protection!
However, Fent is not calling for the turnpike projects to go away, as others are. His conclusion asks for the legislature in 2017 to reconvene and consider each project singly.
Meanwhile, Victims of Eminent Domain, an Oklahoma non-profit comprised mostly of landowners in Eastern Oklahoma County, has filed to provide a “friend of the court” brief in the case.
Attorney Eric Groves tells the high court his group has several objectives including public education concerning the statutory scheme with allows OTA to operate as it does. “Victims hopes to inform the public as to OTA’s purported authority to issue revenue bonds secured by cross-pledging toll revenues from profitable turnpikes in order to subsidize unprofitable turnpikes,” wrote Groves.
From the viewpoint of Victims’ members, the present design of a portion of the “outer loop” (Eastern Oklahoma Turnpike) will destroy or injure the lives and property of hundreds of residents. No other segment of the population faces a greater threat than the membership of Victims.
As to the root of the suit, Groves in support of Fent’s claim writes:
“It is not possible to finance new turnpikes without revenue bonds. Perhaps not one of the new roads can be built without linking all of them together, but the linkage forces a legislature who may favor one road over another into the forbidden practice of “log-rolling.”
The OTA is represented by Mr. Gary Bush and Mr. Jered Davidson of the Public Finance Law Group of Oklahoma City. OTA is expected to defend its projects and the constitutionality of its funding.
The projects are dubbed Driving Forward and were announced last October to great fanfare and a full-on public relations campaign and lauded by politicians including the Governor, legislators and transportation officials. But when Eastern Oklahoma County residents found out about it, and that their land and bucolic and agricultural way of life might be endangered, they began to fight the $300 million project – pleading with officials, holding rallies, and finally pursuing a legal battle alongside Fent’s objection. They are also planning other legal challenges.