By Tom Newell and Greg Treat
It’s no secret that the federal government’s debt is now more than $18 trillion. A bipartisan chorus of policymakers and policy analysts agrees that the current spending patterns of the federal government are unsustainable.
One of the significant drivers in federal debt has been the acceptance and expense of federal funds by state agencies.
According to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) prepared by the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services, total federal funds used by state agencies in Oklahoma have risen dramatically. Just 10 years ago, in fiscal year 2004, federal funds totaled $4.3 billion. Now federal funds total $6.7 billion, meaning our dependence on federal spending is growing, not decreasing. This growth of 56 percent exceeds income growth in Oklahoma, inflation growth, and the growth of other benchmark economic indicators. We’re more reliant on federal funds despite the fact that in fiscal year (FY) 2014, the state set a record for total state tax collections and fees.
Unfortunately, the use of federal funds by state agencies historically has not been very transparent. While Oklahomans can wade through the state’s CAFR to find the combined total amount of federal funds for all state agencies, additional and relevant detail isn’t easily available to the public or even policymakers on state government transparency websites.
According to a recent survey of Oklahoma voters by Sooner Poll, 64.9 percent of Oklahomans want to decrease federal influence in Oklahoma. This same poll found that 87.3 percent think state government spending of federal dollars should be more transparent and 91.6 percent of Oklahomans believe that it’s important for Oklahoma to be financially prepared for reductions in federal funds.
The good news is that a number of states such as Utah and Idaho have already enacted laws requiring greater transparency and detail for federal funds from state agencies. To bolster the effort in Idaho, the governor issued an executive order requiring federal funds transparency prior to state legislative action, thus making federal funds transparency permanent in Idaho.
In Oklahoma, we worked during the 2015 legislative session to make such changes as well. [HB 1748 passed the House with a vote of 69-19 and passed the Senate with a vote of 39-1. It was vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin.]
It is altogether reasonable for policymakers and the public to be able to easily obtain information on federal funds in one location without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops and red tape. What state agencies are spending federal funds? What federal funds have state agencies received and for what programs? What are the “strings” or requirements attached to those funds? All of these questions are valid questions from the public and policymakers.
It’s time to expand federal funds transparency in Oklahoma so that policymakers and the public can have the best information about state agency use of federal funds and so that we can be better prepared to provide for core services of government.
Tom Newell, R-Seminole, represents District 28 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, represents District 47 in the Oklahoma Senate.