Legislators joust over administration of stimulus money

A partisan joust over proper administration of federal stimulus funds reached fever pitch last week, and continues to simmer.  In contending analyses provided to The City Sentinel, leaders advanced sharply contrasting views.
House speaker Chris Benge, a Tulsa Republican, defended a measure he and allies pushed to insert a layer of legislative oversight into the anticipated stimulus spending that lies ahead.  Mike Brown of Tahlequah, floor leader for House Democrats, said state Auditor Steve Burrage, is the right state official to administer the money.

Rep. Brown contends, “Gov. Henry has already appointed Steve Burrage, our State Auditor and Inspector, to oversee the spending of the federal stimulus dollars.  Unfortunately, House and Senate leaders have failed to give his office enough resources for proper oversight.”

“This session, Republican leaders have proven themselves to be poor stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said.  “They’ve already wasted several weeks passing frivolous resolutions, legislating nonexistent problems and trying to stack the 2010 ballot with divisive state questions.”  Brown contended, “House and Senate Republicans have shown they’re more interested in power grabs than in actually governing.”  Brown’s release slammed what he called “an air of hypocrisy” in Republican actions on fiscal issues.

Speaker Benge, however, said the Legislature has a proper role in overseeing the stimulus dollars.  Benge said the GOP’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 13 will provide an additional layer of oversight to ensure stimulus dollars are spent “in an efficient and transparent manner.”
Benge said, “Ultimately, if these dollars are built into the state budget, it will be the Legislature who has to plug these holes in the future when the federal dollars are no longer available.  We must watch these funds closely now and treat these dollars as one-time expenditures.”

The resolution requires every state agency receiving federal stimulus funds to submit an expenditure plan to the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and to Governor Brad Henry.  Benge’s plan passed both houses but does not require Gov. Henry’s signature.

About the author:

OCPA research fellow Patrick McGuigan (M.A. in history, Oklahoma State University) is an editor at The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City and frequent contributor to Tulsa Today. He is the author of two books and the editor of seven. A state-certified teacher, for two years he taught middle-school and high-school students at a public charter alternative school.