OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)
Oklahoma is expected to receive more than $2.6 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, along with additional grant funds in areas like education, technology and energy efficiency.
The largest chunks of stimulus spending in 2009 came from money used to shore up the state's budget and direct federal aid for unemployment benefits, food stamps, health care, transportation and education.
The spending is expected to ramp up significantly in 2010 as infrastructure projects continue and state and federal agencies award competitive grants.
The stimulus package also included tax cuts and incentives such as the first-time homebuyers' credit, which has been extended until July.
Gov. Brad Henry established the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Coordinating Council to figure out the best ways to spend and account for federal stimulus money in Oklahoma.
The council held two public meetings in March, but has held no public meetings since then. That's led some spending watchdogs to call for greater transparency. The next deadline for stimulus recipients to report on their projects is Jan. 10.
"We're on the verge of the second (stimulus) reporting period, and everyone's in the dark," said Brian Downs, executive director of Oklahomans for Responsible Government. "The governor and the Office of State Finance should come out publicly and let the taxpayers know what is happening with the oversight board."
Paul Sund, Henry's spokesman, said the stimulus coordinating council has been meeting informally since March. The council is essentially the governor's cabinet and certain agency directors.
The council never had the authority to disburse or direct stimulus funds in the state, Sund said.
"Those decisions were being made in the legislative process and among agencies going after individual grants," he said.
Still, as governor, Henry had the authority to direct about $105 million in stimulus funds to various parts of state government. That money, informally called the governor's discretionary fund, went mostly to education, health care and infrastructure. Other states spent those funds on public safety and common education, according to an analysis by the Council of State Governments.
Almost half of the discretionary funds — $48.4 million — was part of the fiscal year 2010 budget deal hammered out with Republican legislative leaders in May, Sund said. The agreement included about $600 million in federal stimulus money to help stabilize the budget.
To address another revenue shortfall in the 2011 fiscal year, leaders plan to tap the other half of that federal stimulus money — $600 million — as well as the state's Rainy Day Fund.
Although it held just two public meetings, the stimulus oversight council remains a clearinghouse of information for state leaders. Secretary of State Susan Savage leads that part of the council's effort. She directs grant opportunities and funding awards to the appropriate agencies or programs.
"A lot of this first year has been to put the supporting infrastructure in place to actually implement the requirements of the act, understand what those requirements are, and gear up to do the accountability and reporting piece," Savage said.
The competitive grants offer the most promise for the state in 2010, she said. While the application process can sometimes be tedious, Oklahoma communities and nonprofits can leverage existing state and private dollars to extend the effects of the federal stimulus.
More announcements are expected in 2010 on weatherization grants to help low-income homeowners make their homes more energy efficient. The state Commerce Department has spent less than a tenth of the $60.9 million available for Oklahoma's weatherization program, according to the latest federal stimulus reports.
Also planned for 2010 is the second round of broadband Internet grants for rural and underserved urban communities.