| July 17, 2012

Pork in the agriculture budget! (Part Two)

At an OCPA speech in Tulsa and in other venues, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said: "Never take a dollar from a free citizen through the coercion of taxation without a very legitimate purpose. We have a solemn duty to spend that dollar as carefully as possible because, when we took it, we diminished that person's freedom."

Even though Oklahoma government spending was already at an all-time high, our political leaders who crafted the FY-2013 budget decided to spend even more money. But is there "a very legitimate purpose" behind all this spending? Is all this money — more than $500 per second — being spent "as carefully as possible"?

The news of taxpayer dollars going to bail out a nonprofit, non-governmental entity should disappoint taxpayers and citizens. Discussion of the intended recipient of the funds is not what is most important.

What is alarming about this flagrant act is its unconstitutional nature and legislators’ cavalier disregard for legitimate concerns about its legality and appropriateness. Lest anyone forget, lawmakers’ power to appropriate and the executive branch’s ability to administer are strictly defined in the Oklahoma Constitution.

Article 5, Section 55 of the Oklahoma Constitution states:

“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.”

My requests of the executive branch and the legislative branch about what legal authority allows the Department of Agriculture to give taxpayer dollars to this non-governmental entity have still gone unanswered. The fact that funds have been distributed to this non-governmental entity unconstitutionally in the past does not validate current attempts to violate the constitution. The bill giving funds to the Department of Agriculture clearly states that all funds are to be used "as may be necessary to perform the duties imposed upon the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry by law." Based on the lack of response and a review of state statutes, there is no legal authority to spend funds on this non-governmental entity, as desired by some lawmakers. Current law does not provide for anything related to the duties of the Department of Agriculture and the non-governmental entity.

Given the prohibitions against individual lawmakers directing the expense of agency funds, taxpayers and citizens should be further deeply concerned that all the “powers that be” are trying to influence the expenditure of funds in direct contradiction to the constitution and the bill authorizing the expense of taxpayer funds.

The Secretary of Agriculture, the Board of Agriculture and the Office of State Finance (which allots funds and approves the budgets of state agencies) have a duty to not give a gift, particularly when there is no law directing such an action. They also have a duty to spend funds directly as appropriated, not as might be suggested or wished by all the “powers that be.”

Reports and private conversations have revealed that several initially-opposed lawmakers decided to support this questionable bailout because they were told the funds would come from fees for services at the Secretary of State rather than taxpayers. This is asinine. Attempting to steal and misappropriate the funds from a smaller class of individuals to violate the constitution makes matters worse not better.

It appears the policy approach of former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has spread to the Oklahoma legislature. Pelosi infamously said of Obamacare: “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.” It seems Oklahoma lawmakers have done the same with the budget bill. It might surprise lawmakers, but the budget bill does indeed give only taxpayer funds to the Department of Agriculture. The General Appropriations bill for FY-2013 (SB1975, sections 98 and 99) stipulates that all of the Department of Agriculture’s funds will come from two sources – the FY-2013 general revenue fund and the FY-2011 general revenue fund. The general appropriations bill does attempt to rob the $2 million from the Secretary of State’s revolving fund (section 68), but requires the funds to be sent to the “Special Cash Fund.” That means some lawmakers have unwittingly supported the potential for general taxpayer funds to bail out a non-governmental entity. But, again, whether the funds come from fees or the general revenue, they ought not to have been appropriated to this non-governmental entity at all.

Federal lawmakers bail out banks, Solyndra and their friends. Some state lawmakers wish to bail out non-governmental entities.

This is just one example of why OCPA has repeated the message of one conservative activist: “Don’t read their lips. Read their budgets.”

Despite all of this, there is a glimmer of hope. In recent history, when lawmakers have made grave errors in a hastily passed budget bill (e.g. when funds were given to the Department of Commerce and could not be used), lawmakers and the agencies involved have chosen not to spend the funds and to wait until the legislature came back for its regular session to determine what to do with the funds.

Let’s hope lawmakers and the executive branch come to their better senses, remember their “solemn duty”, reverse course and leave the $2 million “on the table.”

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