Monday, June 23, 2008

Making Your Money Disappear

It was late on the night of the final day of the legislative session. Legislators were tired from a two-day marathon session in which over 10% of the session's votes had been held. Those who had been trying to keep up by reading bills as they were posted were more than likely exhausted from the effort. Most of the Representatives were eager to leave the building, and over 10% of them were leaving for the last time.

It was at this time that Senate Bill 1288 made its way to the floor. And those who were still reading their bills would have realized for the first time what was being planned for ten million dollars of the peoples' money.

Senate Bill 1288 was posted to the legislative calender at 8:40 p.m. By 9:20, it was being voted on. That 40 minutes was the only time legislators had to figure out why and where the $10M was being spent. During that time, several other legislative initiatives were also being voted on, so it was almost impossible to research the spending.

Six million dollars was being funneled through a third-party group to assist with the buyout of the former General Motors plant. This was being done even though Oklahoma County voters had already approved the buyout with local funds.

A key revelation of the series of recent federal prosecutions involving ex-Oklahoma Legislatures was the exposure of how the Legislature funneled money through third-party groups and into their own pet causes from which they sometimes received a direct personal benefit. Usually these are third-party groups with legitimate sounding names like "Development Association," that lead the public to think that the money is used being used for a good purpose. Based on these revelations, I feel the last thing the Legislature should be doing is using third-party groups to funnel expenditures.

Another expenditure in the bill was $1M for the Southwest Oklahoma Development Authority, a $500K payment to the Comanche County Industrial Development Authority for a contract with Delta airlines, and $2.5M for the Southern Oklahoma Development Association.

How, in only 40 minutes, are legislators supposed to determine if these are justifiable expenditures or just money being funneled to third-party groups to be used for inappropriate or illegal purposes like those in the past?

There is no doubt in my mind that this particular bill was deliberately posted at the last minute in order to avoid close scrutiny. It certainly creates the appearance of impropriety when Oklahoma's elected Representatives are given only 40 minutes to discover, analyze and consider how $10M of the people's money is being spent. This is not a small amount of money! To put this into perspective, $10M is nearly enough to run the City of Guthrie for a whole year.

Even though the bill was approved, it is my hope that the revelations of legislative abuse from recent federal prosecutions and the pending change in leadership in the Oklahoma Senate will lead to reform in the way future business of this type is conducted in the Legislature.

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