In an Aug. 7 editorial by The Oklahoman, the newspaper’s staff criticized the Rural Economic Action Plan funding for local rural projects.
The editorial correctly notes that the program provides millions of dollars each year for infrastructure improvements in unincorporated areas and communities with fewer than 7,000 citizens. The program receives about $11 million each year. Most of the primary beneficiaries of the program are volunteer fire departments, law enforcement agencies or city water and street projects.
The Oklahoman asserts that local projects are the responsibility of local governments. This is a strong sounding argument, but ultimately nonsense. REAP projects are just as local as each individual school, but no one would argue that schools should be funded only locally. Small towns strive hard to cover all their needs, but sometimes fall short. These holes are filled with state support. It is a highly necessary arrangement.
I would also point out that rural lawmakers lent their votes to a large Oklahoma City project, the courting of our NBA team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Like many local projects, it had a large benefit to all Oklahomans through its contributions to the state economy and tax base.
The Oklahoman also asserts that REAP is less worthy than the state’s broader public safety goals. On the topic of public safety, let me briefly list a sampling of REAP projects submitted in 2014 – police vehicle, Jaws of Life, storm sirens and installation, a brush pumper in the town of Colony, a fire truck for Washita County, expansion of the fire station in Dill City and an addition to the fire department in Sweetwater. These projects have a direct public safety benefit. Kingfisher, Okarche, Hennessey, Dover, Loyal, Camargo, Seiling and Watonga are just a few of the communities in my House district that have benefitted from REAP funding over the years.
Let me take a moment to paint you a picture. Many Oklahoma families enjoy taking a ski trip over spring break and travel through rural western Oklahoma and a car accident occurs. The first on the scene are the rural volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel. They administer life-saving practices and lives are saved. More than likely the equipment used, which saved those lives, were obtained from a REAP grant. Now, please tell me again how REAP is not a priority?
As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.