Policy tornado: Governor Henry vetoes Sen. Myers’ transparency bill

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 10-May-2010

Governor Brad Henry today (Monday, May 10) issued a veto of House Bill 2575. The decision, and his message explaining the veto, triggered a trio of highly critical statements from advocates of the measure. Even on a day when personnel and reporters at the Capitol were obsessed with the development of stormy weather in central Oklahoma, the governor’s veto provoked a policy tornado of its own.

Defenders of H.B. 2575 said the bill was designed to promote transparency, accountability and coherence in public school financing.

Henry’s veto message declared, “While it may be well intended, H.B. 2575 triggers an unintended consequence that could reduce accountability of public school expenditures. By mandating that fiscal reporting codes cannot be changed more than once a year, the legislation makes it difficult if not impossible for state personnel to track certain expenditures and new program implementation by not being able to provide coding as needed.”

Senator David Myers, a Ponca City Republican, said the effect of the veto was opposite what the governor asserted: “In our current tight budget year, it’s more important than ever to identify cost-saving measures within our education system. House Bill 2575 would have given local schools the opportunity for input in proposed changes to the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System reporting codes and procedures. The Governor’s veto today reduces local control and prohibits opportunities to save schools money and remove burdensome mandates.”

Myers is the Senate author of H.B. 2575.

Speaker of the House Chris Benge was strongly critical of the gubernatorial veto. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Benge said, “House Bill 2575 does absolutely nothing to ‘reduce accountability of public school expenditures’ as Gov. Henry claims in his veto message. In fact, the legislation would do just the opposite by making school expenditures more transparent, accountable and easier for the public to track.”

Benge continued, “The legislation would have helped local school districts by requiring the Education Department to notify them of any changes to the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System reporting codes and procedures once a year. The legislation also allowed districts to have input on proposed code changes and required that the department finalize reporting codes and procedures and distribute to school districts by May 1 of each year for use beginning July 1.”

Benge concluded, “This is a logical measure that would encourage local control and help school districts reduce errors and better prepare for any code changes so their finances are reported accurately. This veto does nothing but solidify the status quo.”

Brian Downs of the citizens’ “watch dog” group, Oklahomans for Responsible Government (OFRG), took pointed issue with the governor’s veto. Downs, executive director of OFRG, asserted, “I can’t believe that Governor Henry actually claims that House Bill 2575 reduces the ability to track funds.  In fact, the bill would actually reduce the ability to hide funds while also relieving school districts of a bureaucratic burden.  Working with one set of accounting codes for an entire year does not seem to harm other states.”

Downs concluded, “We understand that Kansas has not changed its education accounting codes in several years while Oklahoma has changed them multiple times in the same year, making it difficult for districts that have to report the spending.  The fact that HB 2575 passed unanimously in both chambers proves that Governor Henry is not responsive to the needs of Oklahomans.”