Decision Date28 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 92,390.,92,390.
Citation1999 OK 64,984 P.2d 200
PartiesJerry R. FENT and Margaret B. Fent, husband and wife, as resident taxpayers and voters of the State of Oklahoma, Petitioners, v. OKLAHOMA CAPITOL IMPROVEMENT AUTHORITY, a body corporate and politic of the Oklahoma of Oklahoma.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

Russell B. Fister, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for Petitioner.

Douglas F. Price, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Thomas J. Hilborne, Jr. of Hilborne & Weidman, Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Gary M. Bush of Fagin, Brown, Bush, Tinney & Kiser, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for Respondent.


¶ 1 Under 73 O.S.1991, § 160, this Court is given exclusive original jurisdiction to determine the validity of bond issues proposed by respondent, Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority (OCIA). Petitioners, Jerry R. Fent and Margaret B. Fent (husband and wife), two resident taxpayers and registered voters of Oklahoma (hereafter taxpayers) brought this original proceeding challenging the constitutionality of two statutes, 73 O.S. Supp.1998, §§ 168.3 and 301, which together authorize OCIA to issue over $300 million dollars in bonds to fund various governmental projects.1 Taxpayers seek disapproval of any bonds issued under the statutes, primarily based on the argument the bonds would create prohibited debt in violation of OKLA. CONST. art. 10, §§ 23,2 243 and 254 (balanced budget provisions) without a vote of the State's citizens. They also claim the statutes were passed in violation of one or more of the strictures of OKLA. CONST. art. 5, § 33. Section 33 requires revenue bills to originate in the State House of Representatives, that no such bill be passed in the last five days of a legislative session and that such bills must garner a 75% super-majority vote in both the State House and Senate to avoid being submitted to a vote of the people. OCIA asserts neither statute authorizes prohibited debt, that neither is a revenue bill controlled by § 33, and OCIA seeks approval of two proposed bond issues, one in the amount of $10 million dollars and the other in the amount of $155 million dollars. ¶ 2 We hold taxpayers have failed to show either § 168.3 or § 301 are unconstitutional. Neither authorizes debt in the constitutional sense because they only allow for the issuance of what are known as appropriation-risk or moral obligation bonds. Oklahoma constitutional balanced budget provisions are, thus, inapplicable. Further, §§ 168.3 and 301 are not revenue bills controlled by OKLA. CONST. art. 5, § 33 because their principal object is not the raising of revenue, but to provide adequate facilities and/or equipment for State agencies, departments and/or instrumentalities and no taxes are levied or authorized to be levied by either statute. Finally, the two proposed bond issues in the total amount of $165 million dollars sought to be approved by OCIA are valid as authorized by either § 168.3 or § 301.


¶ 3 In considering a statute's constitutionality, courts are guided by well established principles. Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, 1960 OK 207, 355 P.2d 1028, 1031. A heavy burden is cast on those challenging a legislative enactment to show its unconstitutionality and every presumption is to be indulged in favor of the constitutionality of a statute. Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, 1998 OK 25, 958 P.2d 759, 763, cert. denied ___ U.S. ___, 119 S.Ct. 174, 142 L.Ed.2d 142 (1998). If two possible interpretations of a statute are possible, only one of which would render it unconstitutional, a court is bound to give the statute an interpretation that will render it constitutional, unless constitutional infirmity is shown beyond a reasonable doubt. Gilbert Central Corp. v. State, 1986 OK 6, 716 P.2d 654, 658. A court is bound to accept an interpretation that avoids constitutional doubt as to the legality of a legislative enactment. Id.

¶ 4 It is also firmly recognized that it is not the place of this Court, or any court, to concern itself with a statute's propriety, desirability, wisdom, or its practicality as a working proposition. Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, supra, 355 P.2d at 1031; Oklahoma Industries Authority v. Barnes, 1988 OK 98, 769 P.2d 115, 119 (the judiciary cannot challenge the wisdom, need or desirability of any constitutionally valid legislation). Such questions are plainly and definitely established by our fundamental law as functions of the legislative branch of government. Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, supra, 355 P.2d at 1031. Respect for the integrity of our tripartite scheme for distribution of governmental powers commands that the judiciary abstain from intrusion into legislative policymaking. Oklahoma Industries Authority v. Barnes, supra, 769 P.2d at 119. A court's function, when the constitutionality of a statute is put at issue, is limited to a determination of the validity or invalidity of the legislative provision [Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, supra, 355 P.2d at 1031] and a court's function extends no farther in our system of government.

¶ 5 Furthermore, this Court recognized only last year that unless there is a specific constitutional prohibition, the Legislature has the right and responsibility to declare Oklahoma's fiscal policy. Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, supra, 958 P.2d at 763. Simply, in ruling on the constitutional validity of a statute relating to this State's fiscal affairs, we are not allowed to consider whether it is based on sound economic theory or whether it is the best means to achieve the desired result because such matters are for legislative determination. Id. With these principles understood, we turn to review the statutes involved here and the two proposed bond issues.


¶ 6 Although we have considered all arguments raised by taxpayers in an attempt to show the two statutes involved here and the bonds authorized to be issued thereunder, violate OKLA. CONST. art. 10, §§ 23, 24 and 25, we are convinced neither statute authorizes State debt as contemplated by those constitutional provisions and, therefore, those constitutional balanced budget provisions are simply inapplicable to the bonds sought to be issued and sold by the OCIA under the grant of authority contained in §§ 168.3 and 301. At most, the statutes authorize only appropriation-risk or moral obligation bonds, and under our previous cases the issuance and sale of such bonds do not create debt in a constitutional sense.

¶ 7 Section 168.3 authorizes OCIA to issue and sell bonds to fund certain building projects at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.5 Section 301 authorizes OCIA to issue and sell bonds to fund various governmental projects, ranging from construction of a new building for the J.D. McCarty Center for Children with Developmental Disabilities to the purchase of computer hardware and software for the Oklahoma Department of Central Services.6

¶ 8 As we interpret both statutes, OCIA is authorized thereunder to fund the costs of the various projects by borrowing monies on the credit of the income and revenues to be derived from the projects. The money borrowed will, of course, come from the issuance and sale of the bonds. In turn, the bonds are to be retired by payments made to OCIA by the various agencies, departments and/or instrumentalities using and/or benefitting from the projects under lease or other agreements with OCIA. Although each statute expresses an intent to appropriate sufficient monies to the various agencies, etc. to make such payments to OCIA for the purpose of retiring the bonds, nowhere in either statute is there a provision obligating a future legislature to do so. In such regard, we find applicable the following statement made only last year by this Court in a case concerning the approval of bonds proposed to be issued by OCIA to fund construction, repair and maintenance of state highways:

Unquestionably, provisions obligating future legislatures are unconstitutional. However, here, there is simply nothing to bind future legislative bodies to make the anticipated appropriations. Future revenues are not pledged . . . for retirement of the proposed bonds. The present Legislature's intent to appropriate the monies is not a binding commitment on future legislatures to do so.

Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, supra, 958 P.2d at 771.

¶ 9 Further, the two bond resolutions before us each contain a copy of the form of bond to be sold and on the face thereof is contained the following disclaimer:

This bond is not an indebtedness of the State of Oklahoma, nor shall it be deemed to be an obligation of the State of Oklahoma and neither the faith and credit nor the taxing power of the State of Oklahoma or any political subdivision thereof is pledged or may hereafter be pledged to the payment of the principal of or the interest on this Bond or the series of which it forms a part. This Bond is not a general obligation of [OCIA] nor a personal obligation of the members of [OCIA], but it is a limited obligation payable solely from the revenues specifically pledged to its payment.

In substance, the two statutes at issue here, and the bonds which they authorize, are indistinguishable from those held valid by this Court on previous occasions. See Application of Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, 1998 OK 25, 958 P.2d 759, cert. denied ___ U.S. ___, 119...

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