Patrick B McGuigan
State Senator Patrick Anderson of Enid has asked Governor Mary Fallin to stop a transfer of $2 million from the state Department of Agriculture to the Oklahoma Youth Expo. The envisioned transfer from the “Ag” Department to the expo has garnered critical scrutiny in recent days.
In comments provided to CapitolBeatOK on Tuesday (July 17), the Republican legislator said, “The budget bill passed by the Legislature contains no language about the funds being spent on the Oklahoma Youth Expo. Therefore, the only way the funds can be spent on the Youth Expo is for the Department of Agriculture to be directed by the Governor to spend those funds on this project through the agency’s Budget Work Program.”
The Oklahoma Constitution (Article 5, section 55) includes this text: “No money shall ever be paid out of the treasury of this State, nor any of its funds, nor any of the funds under its management, except in pursuance of an appropriation by law, nor unless such payments be made within two and one-half years after the passage of such appropriation act, and every such law making a new appropriation, or continuing or reviving an appropriation, shall distinctly specify the sum appropriated and the object to which it is to be applied, and it shall not be sufficient for such law to refer to any other law to fix such sum.”
Pointing to the constitutional language, Jonathan Small of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has been critical of plans to send the money to the expo, stressing that particular expenditure was not specified in legislation.
Small contends it is not appropriate to send the money to a nonprofit non-government entity. He also asserts the sum involved was hefty in the midst of a challenging budget year. Small has crafted a continuing series of blog posts taking “another look at the budget deal.”
Sen. Anderson said in Tuesday’s statement, ““The Oklahoma Youth Expo is a fine event, but it is not appropriate for the state to spend $2 million of the taxpayers’ money to support it. The Governor has the authority to direct that these funds be spent on the Youth Expo – but she also has the authority to stop this. I hope she chooses to do the latter.”
A Tulsa World news story (by Wayne Greene and Casey Smith) detailed initial legislative rejection of a $2 million boost to the Agriculture agency’s budget, before a handful of House members switched to support the measure near the end of this year’s session. The Fiscal Year 2013 appropriation for the agency was exactly $2 million higher than in FY 2012.
OCPA’s Small has argued the intended use of the resources is an example of a modern legislative practice, in both state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, that runs contrary to the state constitutional proviso noted above.
He wrote, “U.S. Senator Tom Coburn has been a leader in the fight against earmarks. In his important new book, ‘The Debt Bomb,’ he revealed a dirty little secret members of Congress use called ‘phone marking.’ This tactic avoids a paper trail and transparency rules by telephoning agency heads to cajole them to fund certain grants or risk budget cuts to their agency.”
Agriculture Commissioner Jim Reese is a member of the expo board; chairman of the youth expo’s board is Oklahoma businessman Bob Funk. The expo is a junior livestock show scheduled for March next year. Funk said the $2 million in funding would go for higher education scholarships.