Lawton-Fort Sill_Three of Oklahoma's top legislative leaders got a first-hand look at the new construction going on at Fort Sill on Wednesday. Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins, House Speaker Chris Benge of Tulsa, and the new Senate President Pro Tem, Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City, took a drive-through tour of the post to see how Fort Sill is getting ready for the thousands of new residents expected because of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
After their tour, they met with local and state officials to discuss ways the legislature may be able to help pay for the transition. They say that providing state financial help may be tough this year as early projections indicate that lawmakers will have about $250,000 less to work with this year. However, Lieutenant Governor Askins offered an idea which may not require using any state funds.
The discussion that President-Elect Barack Obama may create a federal stimulus package that puts Americans back to work on government projects has many cities and states licking their chops, and some are already creating wish lists for projects. "If the talk is about what can we do to help build new jobs and how can we build infrastructure, then, to me, what's going on in the Lawton-Fort Sill area as a result of the construction and new missions at Fort Sill, should lend itself to fitting that definition," she said.
The President-Elect's agenda was only one item that Askins planned to share with local and state leaders. "This is going to take a partnership of federal, city, and state, and multiple cities," she said. "I believe as communities and school districts all around this area are going to be impacted by the influx of people."
House Speaker Benge and Senate President Coffee says that despite some claims made during the election cycle, the state legislature does recognize Fort Sill's impact on Oklahoma. However, lawmakers will need to prioritize what financial assistance will be provided this year to help prepare for BRAC. Benge says they will need to rank BRAC's needs along with the rest of the state's government. "Does it mean we need to do more? I think we need to take a look at that and see," said Coffee. "We certainly want to be committed to helping to be good partners with the community, and with the military, so this will continue."
Oklahoma's treasurer is expected to release an estimate of the state's revenues on Friday, and that figure will give lawmakers an idea of how much money they will have to work with next year. Last year's estimate was exaggerated, and lawmakers ended up with less money in the coffers than projected.
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