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Oklahoma City lawyer Jerry Fent wants review of Oklahoma's stimulus funds

Oklahoma City lawyer Jerry Fent wants review of Oklahoma's stimulus funds

 

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT
Published: September 29, 2009

The state of Oklahoma used the wrong process to accept and spend federal stimulus funds, according to a lawsuit filed Monday with the state Supreme Court.

 A hearing has been set for Oct. 28 on whether the state high court will accept the case accusing the state of Oklahoma of using the wrong process to accept and spend federal stimulus funds.


The approximately $2.8 billion in stimulus funds should go to the state Equalization Board for its review and approval, said Jerry Fent, an Oklahoma City lawyer, who filed the lawsuit. The Equalization Board, made up of seven state officials, sets the amount of state funds legislators can spend each year.

"Federal funds are voluntary,” Fent said. "They’re not mandatory.

"The argument/defense that the feds made us do it is just a denial of responsibility,” he said.

Gov. Brad Henry, who is chairman of the Equalization Board, earlier this year appointed a 15-member coordinating council to oversee Oklahoma’s use of the stimulus funds. He assigned state Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage, another Equalization Board member, to ensure the federal funds are spent correctly.

"We have not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit in detail yet so we cannot comment on its contents,” said Paul Sund, Henry’s spokesman. "However, Oklahoma has worked diligently to correctly administer its stimulus funds in an efficient and effective manner.”

State Treasurer Scott Meacham, a member of the Equalization Board and Henry’s top budget adviser, said, "Mr. Fent’s claims appear to be without any real merit, but ultimately that decision will be up to the Supreme Court.”

Fent said a constitutional amendment passed by a 2-1 margin by voters in 1985 requires all federal funds be certified by the Equalization Board to determine available money for Oklahoma’s budget each year. State Question 587 basically changed the formula for estimating state revenue.

Fent named Henry, the Equalization Board, the governor’s coordinating council and the state Transportation Department as defendants. The Transportation Department already has allocated nearly 90 percent of the $465 million in stimulus money it received. About 25 percent — or $115.8 million — has been paid out to contractors working on projects on Oklahoma roads, and eight projects, totaling $14.3 million, have been completed.

About $1.2 billion of the stimulus money is for budget stabilization purposes. Legislators and the governor used about $630 million this fiscal year to make up for about a $600 million shortfall. Legislators plan to use the remaining $600 million or so to craft the budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1, or they could use the money to make up for this year’s continued state revenue shortfalls.


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