OKLAHOMA CITY-- It took a last-minute push, but Oklahoma lawmakers have come through for the state's military communities, including Lawton-Fort Sill. On Thursday afternoon, the state house passed Senate Bill 751, which has become known as the BRAC bill. It calls for the state to pay the interest on bonds passed by military communities to finance infrastructure projects.
Area lawmakers say it was one of the most important bills of the legislative session. "All these communities that are struggling to get help for the influx of troops, families, and contractors are needing help and that what this is about," said Representative Don Armes of Faxon.
Getting to the final vote wasn't easy. Even after the southwest Oklahoma delegation of lawmakers explained how military installations are a $6 billion industry in the state.
"There's been a lot of haggling back and forth between both sides. The Republican leadership were wanting certain concessions. The federal Republican delegation called in to visit with them to make sure this thing happened without any hitches," said Representative Joe Dorman of Rush Springs.
One concern some lawmakers had was which communities could qualify for state aid.
"This needed to be mission specific for those communities that are adjacent to military installations," said Senator Don Barrington of Lawton.
"For our area for example, Cache and Elgin would still be able to benefit and be able to apply for those dollars to be able to receive the benefits because percentage wise, they're going to see as much growth, if not more than Lawton," said Rep. Dorman.
According to Representative Armes, the bill will also send a message to military leaders in Washington, that Oklahoma is ready for even more growth. But, Armes said some state leaders didn't understand its impact.
"One thing all of us in southwest Oklahoma, especially in the Lawton-Fort Sill area have not done well enough is to sell our installation to the rest of the state. There were some people in other parts of the state that don't grasp the largeness and importance of this issue," said Armes.
Lawmakers did put a $100 million cap on the amount of interest they'll pay over the next five years. They figured about $25 dollars for each of the 4 cities, Lawton, Altus, Enid, and Midwest City, that house the state's military installations.
As you can imagine, the passage of the BRAC bill was welcomed with a big sigh of relief at Lawton's City Hall. "We've identified nearly $40 million in roads, sewers and water projects and the school district has identified $30 million in school improvements that they'll need to make, including the construction of new elementary schools," said city manager Larry Mitchell.