A total of $2 million in state government “pass through” funding for the Youth Expo has not yet been released, according to state Representative Sally Kern.
The Oklahoma City Republican told members of the Northwest (Oklahoma City) Chamber Thursday she has written letters to Gov. Mary Fallin and OK Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, urging them to stop the money flow through the Secretary of State’s office. Kern said, “It’s unconstitutional to do a pass through even if it’s a onetime thing.” She said it’s just one of the reasons she voted against this year’s budget.
Still, Governor Mary Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, said Wednesday that the Governor would stand by the budget as passed and honor the Youth Expo. The Governor’s response came Wednesday in response to State Sen. Patrick Anderson, an Enid Republican who wants the governor to stop the transfer of $2 million from the state Department of Agriculture’s budget.
Anderson contends the diversion of taxpayer money to fund the private Oklahoma Youth Expo is inappropriate. He is not alone in that position.
A flurry of follow up reports and editorials have been published since the Youth Expo and other funding in the budget were targeted in recent articles by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ Jonathan Small, Fiscal Policy Director for the free market think tank in Oklahoma City.
Six lawmakers weighed in at the recent “State of the State” luncheon hosted by the Chamber. Jill McCartney, Chamber President / CEO asked the panel of legislators if they were “surprised” when the Youth Expo issue came before them. All represent the city region, all are Republicans and all expressed concern with the culture and budget process of the Oklahoma Legislature.
Kern called the budget process “closed” and an “absolute shame.”
Senator David Holt followed, saying, “The House was given an all or nothing deal.”
Representative Randy McDaniel said, “The issue is a symptom of a much larger problem,” and that there is a need to “change the culture” of the process to prevent such issues in the future.
Representative Jason Nelson told the more than 100 gathered that he didn’t know about the $2 million deal until the budget bill was “rolled out on the floor.”
“I had major problems with the $2 million and was one who voted NO,” said Rep. Elise Hall. But, Hall later changed her vote, saying she was concerned with the cost of a special session which would result if no budget were approved by the close of the regular session.
Senator Greg Treat called for budget reform to prevent issues like the Youth Expo from slipping through. “The budget process is outdated and needs reform,” he said. Treat said, “We fight against it and were beaten down at every turn.”
The budget measure as passed and signed into law increased the Agriculture Department's budget by $2 million, with the money being “passed through” the Secretary of State’s office. State officials have confirmed that the money is intended for the Youth Expo, the largest junior livestock show in the world.
The bone of contention concerning the Youth Expo is that the $2 million provides funding for the operation of a non-governmental entity.