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Federal stimulus funds could help Oklahoma's budget

Federal stimulus funds could help Oklahoma's budget

ECONOMY Governor pledges accountability, disclosure to public

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT
Published: March 14, 2009

Some of the state’s share of the federal stimulus package will help Oklahoma dig out of its $900 million budget hole for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Brad Henry said Friday.


Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry speaks to reporters during the Oklahoma Associated Press' annual legislative forum at the Oklahoma state. 

"I don’t think it will resolve all of our problems,” he said. "We cannot think of these stimulus funds as a blank check to plug budget holes.

"This is about stimulating the economy.”

The state is expected to receive more than $2.6 billion from the package. State officials are waiting for regulations and guidelines on how the money can be spent, but about $465 million is allocated for road and bridge construction, about $287 million is to fund education programs from pre-kindergarten through high school and about $26.2 million is for law enforcement agencies.

Some of the stimulus money can be used to make up shortfalls in the 2010 fiscal year budget caused by declining federal money coming into the state, mostly for Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, Henry said. Some funds are earmarked to help states with budget problems in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and Oklahoma officials are trying to find out if those funds can be used to fill gaps in the 2010 fiscal year budget, he said.

Oklahoma has received a small amount of the stimulus money, and more, including the transportation funds, should be available soon, Henry said.

Panel makes plans
The governor made the comments after convening the first meeting of a 15-member state coordinating council he appointed to help oversee Oklahoma’s use of the stimulus funds and to draw up some of the spending plans.

Henry told the panel, made up of state agency and executive branch leaders, the funds will be spent with compliance, accountability, transparency and public disclosure.

The advisory council drew criticism from a group called Oklahomans for Responsible Government, which said more bureaucracy is not the way to make sure stimulus funds are spent correctly.

The group’s executive director, Brian Downs, said he is troubled that the council is made up of Cabinet members and agency heads who will be spending the tax money.

"Taxpayers and the Legislature don’t seem to have a voice,” Downs said.

Henry, during Friday’s meeting, instructed state Treasurer Scott Meacham to brief legislative leaders daily on the funds’ status.

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