Okla. lawmaker proposes access to Rainy Day Fund for disaster aid - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Okla. lawmaker proposes access to Rainy Day Fund for disaster aid

Lawton_As layers of ice from this week's storm melt away, county and city governments are getting a first look at how much damage the storm may have caused.  So far, Comanche County has not reported any major problems aside from roadway damage, but crews began preliminary damage assessments on Friday, and will present their findings to commissioners on Monday.

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry declared a State of Emergency prior to the storm, but it is yet to be determined if the state will qualify for federal disaster aid.  If the state, and individual counties, qualify for disaster relief, most of the money will come from the Federal Government, and the remainder will be split between the state and counties.

In the past, the state has been slow to give the counties their money, and one lawmaker wants to change that.  Under the proposed bill, the matching funds to reimburse the counties would come from Oklahoma's Rainy Day Fund, which has approximately $600 million.  Many lawmakers - including the Governor - have tried to keep all hands off that money, but voters could change that.

When an ice storm blanketed Comanche County in 2000, it took about seven years for the state to completely reimburse the county government for its portion of the disaster relief.  "We have to up front the money, and it short-changes the citizens on the upkeep of roads, bridges, and the safety of our citizens," said Comanche County Commissioner Ron Kirby.

Kirby says he is all for speeding up the reimbursement process by drawing from the state's surplus funds - after all, he says it's taxpayers' money.  "Why somebody would oppose dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for such an item like reimbursement to the counties for the actual taxpayers is beyond me," he said.

Representative Ann Coody, (R) Lawton, says she and other lawmakers oppose the proposed bill because the Rainy Day Fund is why the Oklahoma government is not in dire-straits during the current U.S. economic climate.  "We have a savings account for the state, just like we do in our own homes, and we try not to touch that money unless it's just a dire emergency," she said.

When Coody says ‘dire' she means if lives and property are in danger.  "I believe, when we have emergencies, we can draw from funds...we'll find some place to get it," she said.  "Sometimes the state may be a little slow about clean up funds and things like that, and matching funds for federal money."

While it took a while to get the state's money for the 2000 ice storm, 7News was told that the state was much faster in reimbursing Comanche County for the ice storm in 2007.  If the disaster funding reform bill passes, Oklahoma voters will get to decide on it during the next general election in November, 2010.

Count on 7News to keep you updated.

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