There is an adage that states, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” That is certainly true of HB 1761 which had been rejected several times in the past with previous authors and failed again last year at the last possible moment.

HB 1764 was a rewrite of a bill that passed both the House and the Senate last year. The Governor’s legal staff however was not comfortable with some of the language and he vetoed the bill. I rewrote the bill for this legislature and this time it passed the legislature and the Governor signed it into law.

This bill allows for 100% reimbursement to the counties for their ad valorem tax on school land. Right now the counties get about 10% of the actual amount they should receive if the property were privately owned.

All the school land is now in western Oklahoma and concentrated in the Panhandle area. Cimarron County has 1/3 of all the school land in the state within its boundaries. In fact, the six counties in my district all rank within the top ten of total  school land acres in the state.

When the state was formed, each county received an equal amount of land. This land was to be dedicated to fund common education. However land from one county could be traded for school land in another county. That is how all the school land migrated to western Oklahoma.

The School Land Commission manages this land and uses the money earned from its lease, mineral rights, and other income to go into the School Land Account. Part of the earnings are earmarked into the Building Fund to be used as the Legislature sees fit. The rest is bound by the Constitution to be put into common education.

In the past the Building fund has been used for various and sundry projects. One of the most recent was to put trees on Lincoln Blvd. by the Capitol Building. HB 1761 earmarks that fund amount to be put back into the counties that produced the money. The money will now be used to pay the full ad valorem taxes for all the school land in that county.

That in turn will allow about 75% of that money to be used for common education and the rest of the money to be used for county needs. This includes maintenance of the roads and bridges that school buses must cross to take school kids to and from school..

 Since the budget agreement had been made before the bill passed, it will not go into effect until next year. At the last minute I was able to reach agreement with the Appropriations and Budget Chairman and he approved the change to begin in the next budget year.

In July 2008, then, the counties in the panhandle area should be getting a needed and welcome boost to help education and county government in our area. Sometimes it pays to keep working on an issue, even if it fails at first.