Opinion:In the Matter of the Application of the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, 2022 OK 31
Subject matter:Federal Loan Approval
Date Decided:April 5, 2022
Trial Court:N/A
Route to this Court:Original jurisdiction
Facts:In 2021, ODOT released an eight-year (2021-2028) construction plan report, called the Oklahoma Transportation Commission Construction Work Plan . In the plan, ODOT recommended implementation of the Rural 2-Lane Advancement and Management Plan (RAAMP), which called for improvements to rural two-lane roadways throughout the State. RAAMP will take multiple years, implemented incrementally via “financing packages and project bundles.” RAAMP’s total costs will likely exceed $400,000,000. RAAMP’s funding would be secured through a combination of federal allocations, state appropriations, and proceeds from one or more revenue notes secured through USDOT.

To finance the first stages of RAAMP, the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority (OCIA) proposed securing federal loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, 23 U.S.C. §§ 601-610. Oklahoma statutes give OCIA certain statutory prerogatives. These powers cover the acquisition and improvement of properties on behalf of the State. One of OCIA’s specified legislative purposes is the improvement and expansion of highway infrastructure throughout Oklahoma. 73 O.S.2021, ch. 6, § 151.

On May 24, 2021, 73 O.S. 2021 § 350.1,3 became effective and authorized OCIA to secure financing for purposes of carrying out RAAMP. Relevant here is Section 350.1: “the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority is authorized to issue notes, bonds or other evidences of obligation, and to execute federal loans with the United States Department of Transportation pursuant to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (codified as 23 U.S.C., Sections 601-609), in an amount necessary to generate net proceeds of Two Hundred Million Dollars ($200,000,000.00).”

On September 21, 2021, OCIA filed an application with the Supreme Court, requesting approval of the TIFIA Loan Agreement and accompanying notes. A hearing was scheduled for October 26, 2021 before a referee. Notice of the application and the statutorily mandated hearing was filed and subsequently published in The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World. An affidavit attesting to publication of the notice was filed in the original proceeding. No objection was submitted, and no adverse parties appeared for the hearing to contest the application.
Standard of Review:Not specified. 
Analysis:The Court reasons that because the proposed TIFIA loans are specifically authorized by the Legislature as an essential governmental function, and because valid notice of this application was given by the OCIA, and because no protests have come forward, there is no reason to not grant it. The Court also stated in In re Okla. Tpk. Auth., 2018 OK 88, 431 P.3d 59 a nearly identical situation arose, and the Court granted the loan there, so it does not see why it should not here as well. 
Outcome:Application to enter into the loan agreement was granted. 
Vote:8-1; Darby, C.J., Kane, V.C.J., Kauger, Winchester, Edmondson, Combs, Gurich (author), and Kuehn, JJ., Concur;Rowe, J., Concurs in Part; Dissents in Part.
Other: In his dissent, J. Rowe agrees that the loan is constitutional, but believes there is no case or controversy to resolve. He believes the Court is simply passing premature judgment on complexities and hypotheticals. He states: “While I must agree that this Court possesses the statutory authority to rule in this matter, I cannot say that I am comfortable doing so. By rendering judgment in this matter, . . . we are also foreclosing the right of any person or entity to challenge their validity at a later date, even if a meritorious claim arises.”