Oklahoma Budget Leaders Outline Spending Plans for Funds

Beverly Cantrell - September 9, 2021 9:05 am

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — House and Senate budget leaders met Wednesday to outline plans for spending billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds.

Oklahoma is receiving $1.87 billion over the next two years, while another $1.32 billion will flow to cities, counties, and towns across the state, said Jeff Bankowski, a partner with Guidehouse, an independent consultant hired by the state to help guide state spending.

“There are a lot of federal relief funds that are here right now and there’s a potential for more on the horizon,” Bankowski told members of the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding.

The state also has hired a local consulting firm, 929 Strategies, founded by Melissa McLawhorn Houston, a former Oklahoma labor commissioner who previously worked on Gov. Kevin Stitt’s transition team.

Bankowski told lawmakers there are five eligible uses for the funds: public health support; responding to negative economic impacts; premium pay for essential workers; revenue loss as a result of COVID-19; and investments in infrastructure, including water, sewer and broadband. He noted that funds are not eligible to be used to make deposits into pension funds or state savings accounts, for offset reductions in tax revenue, or as matching funds for federal programs.

Kay Hart, a program manager for Guidehouse, said she and other members of her staff began meeting last month with lawmakers and the governor’s staff to develop a framework for a report to be submitted next month to the U.S. Treasury for approval.

Of the $1.32 billion targeted for local entities, Guidehouse reported $768.6 million will be distributed directly to 77 counties based on population, $315.8 million will go directly to the state’s 10 largest metropolitan areas and another $238.4 million will go to “non-entitlement units,” or NEUs, which are typically local governments serving populations of fewer than 50,000.

Hart reported many of the NEUs plan to register for their funds during the annual conference of the Oklahoma Municipal League this week in Oklahoma City.

The state also is building a website for local entities to submit project requests, which will then be vetted by a series of working groups and ultimately submitted to the governor for approval.

House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Wallace said the panel will meet again on Sept. 22 to formally approve its goals, which include building a more diverse economy, enhancing services for the well-being of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, and investing in physical and digital infrastructure.

 

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