Budget & Tax

Finish the job on federal-funds transparency

January 30, 2018

Brandon Dutcher

This article was published in OCPA's Perspective magazine View Issue

In 2015 a very important piece of legislation, House Bill 1748, required Oklahoma state agencies to publicly report the amount of federal funding they receive and the strings attached to that money. The measure passed overwhelmingly in both chambers.

Disappointingly, it was vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Today, as OCPA president Jonathan Small has pointed out, “tens of millions of dollars are missing; criminal investigations are under way. Officials at the State Department of Health, it seems, misspent funds and misled the public about it for at least six years. Some of the money came from the federal government, meaning those involved could face federal charges, and state taxpayers might have to pay that money back.”

Would HB 1748 have prevented all of these problems? No. Still, the scandal reminds us of “the danger of federal funds flowing through state agencies and the need for greater transparency,” Small says. “The money looks deceptively free, inviting abuses. After all, the Legislature doesn’t have to raise it through taxes. For that matter, about a quarter of all federal funds are borrowed (something that would be illegal for state government to do on its own).”

“What’s most upsetting about the governor’s wrongheaded veto,” OCPA distinguished fellow Andrew Spiropoulos presciently noted at the time, “is what it tells us about the mindset of her administration. Both her decision and her defense of it help explain why, less than five months into her second term, many conservatives have lost hope that we will see any meaningful change in the next four years.”

Nevertheless, in light of the Health Department scandal and perhaps other scandals we don’t yet know about, lawmakers should pass federal-funds transparency legislation in 2018 and send it to the governor’s desk.