City officials are monitoring the progress of a handful of bills in the state legislature that, if they become law, would provide Tulsa greater leeway in tackling such issues as what to do about dilapidated buildings and sales tax collections while another would allow the city to enter into joint bidding submissions with the county for goods and services.
Terry Simonson, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s chief of staff, said the deadline for the bills to emerge from their various committees is Friday, March 4. If the measures are voted down in committee or don't receive a hearing, they will be considered dead for this session, he said.
Simonson said he and other administration officials have worked closely with state lawmakers to get the bills introduced this session. Perhaps the most ambitious of the lot is a measure that would allow for the creation of an intermodal transportation authority that would be based at a site between Tulsa International Airport and the Port of Catoosa. The bill, which is being carried by state Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, would provide an economic development boost for the region, Simonson said, by reorganizing air, rail and barge traffic under the same oversight.
Simonson said the proposal would create a local version of New York's Port Authority.
"It would create some kind of authority that would bring all that muscle together at an attractive site," he said.
The bill already has emerged from a House committee and awaits a vote before the full House, he said.
A second measure, introduced in separate bills before the House and Senate, would allow the city to collect its own sales and use tax. Simonson said the city had that capability until last session, when lawmakers adopted a measure requiring Oklahoma municipalities to contract for that service with the state Tax Commission.
The Bartlett administration signed an agreement with an Alabama-based private firm for that service last spring, but the pact has been put on hold while a lawsuit the city filed against the state over the new law plays out. City officials believe the private firm will collect more revenue from businesses than the Tax Commission while keeping a lower percentage of the take.
The bill had not been heard in committee as of Feb. 25, Simonson said.
He acknowledged the measure will face stiff opposition from Tax Commission officials but said the two sides are trying to resolve their differences.
"We're going to meet with them to see if we can find a compromise," Simonson said.
A third measure would allow the city to create an energy district authority that could acquire public or private funds, then put that money to work by making it available for businesses and homeowners interested in making their buildings or homes more energy efficient. Simonson said the authority likely would do that in the form of a low-interest revolving loan program.
That bill, which is being carried by Senate Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Tulsa, already has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House, he said.
A bill originating in the house and being carried by state Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa and state Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, would give cities more latitude and authority in taking action on the problem of abandoned and run-down structures, according to Simonson.
That bill was due to be heard in a House committee sometime this week, he said.
"It's a great bill," he said. "It would give the city additional tools and expedite the process of taking action against dilapidated buildings that depress property values in a neighborhood."
A final measure would permit cities and counties to do joint bidding for goods and services that both entities now have to bid on separately, perhaps allowing them to make those purchases at a reduced price. A new committee featuring representatives from the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County held its first meeting in the middle of February to explore such collaborative ventures.
That bill also is being carried by Sullivan, Simonson said.
Simonson, who also serves as the mayor's legal counsel, said he is a regular visitor to the state Capitol, driving to Oklahoma City twice a week to support the measures, since Tulsa does not have a paid lobbyist. He said he spends his time at the Capitol trying to shepherd the bills through the Legislature, even testifying before a committee on a measure's behalf, if necessary. This week's committee deadline is the first important step for those bills, he said.
"It's particularly critical for us in clearing that first hurdle in the House or Senate," he said. "And then you start the same thing on the other side."
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