Oklahoma Gov. Urges $44M Higher Education Bond Issue

March 29, 2004

Oklahoma's Higher Education Day, when students and faculty are given the chance to discuss their concerns with the state legislature, recently provided a golden opportunity of sorts for Gov. Brad Henry. Held March 9 at the State House, the event enabled the governor to advocate support for a bond issue that would fund endowed chairs at Oklahoma's colleges and universities.

According to Gov. Henry's budget figures, $44 million in private donations are waiting for matching state funds for the endowed chair program. The governor is proposing a bond issue to match those donations. Funding endowed chairs, which enables a college or program to recruit and retain faculty whose reputations elevate its prominence, is a key component of the governor's $1 billion Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) initiative (see the Jan. 23, 2004, issue of the Digest).

The EDGE task force, created last August as part of the initiative, consists of private and public sector volunteers that review the state’s economic development efforts and recommend improvements. Eliminating the present backlog in unfunded endowed chairs is a priority for the task force, according to the governor's press office.

For every $1 invested, the state can generate another $5 dollars in federal and private research funds, Gov. Henry said in a press statement. This makes it “inexcusable” for the state not to step up its endowed chair funding, he said. Passage of the bond issue, he added, is necessary in order to allow the state to lead in biomedical, energy and agricultural research and development.

In using bonds, a mixture of taxable and tax-exempt debt could be included while also easing the stress on Oklahoma's general fund. For example, faculty salaries would be taxable and money for research facilities would qualify for tax exemption.

More information on the EDGE initiative is available at: http://www.okhighered.org/eco-devo/

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