How Former Governor Henry Spent Oklahoma's Stimulus Dollars

Monday, January 10th 2011, 6:32 pm
By: News On 6

Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A little more than a year ago, the Oklahoma Impact Team interviewed Governor Brad Henry about his plans for $105 million stimulus dollars he had to spend at his discretion.

Interestingly, not all of that money's been spent, and much of what was spent didn't go quite where the Governor had planned.

"I had well over one hundred requests, 100 applications for funding," Governor Henry said at the time.

In November of 2009, Governor Brad Henry had a plan for every penny of the stimulus dollars he was given to help stabilize state government. He would use a little more than half of it on education: $35 million would go to common education and $29 million would go to higher education.

"Believe that education and providing more educational opportunities to the people of Oklahoma is really the key for our state, in terms of our future economic growth and prosperity," he said.

Other big allocations included $15 million toward disaster relief for Oklahoma cities and towns and $14 million to settle a federal civil rights complaint with Langston University in Tulsa.

But Henry soon discovered what stimulus recipients across the country had been wrestling with: the stimulus money comes with strings attached. Many of the projects he picked didn't meet the fed's stimulus criteria.

For example, the $15 million for disaster relief was cut and the civil rights complaint will now have to be settled by another administration. The governor shuffled $6 million to fund construction of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and sent even more money to education.

Common and higher education ended up with $68 million, or almost 70 percent, of the Governor's stimulus money.

That includes $16 million that had to be repurposed two times, from tax reimbursements to textbook reimbursements. At one point people wondered if the $16 million dollars was lost, including the incoming state superintendent, Janet Barresi.

"It appears there's a lot of finger-pointing on both sides of this issue," Barresi said.

The $16 million debacle, she says, is proof she needs to look into communication issues within the state.

"I'm going to want to know where their controls are, where was the communication, where are the lines of communication, who's responsibility was it," Barresi said.

State finance employees say the stimulus rules created huge headaches for them when it came to this $16 million.

"Most agencies in the state that have received stimulus dollars are reporting those through us to the feds," said Brandy Manek, Office of State Finance. "But sometimes getting to the end level of details that they require for transparency purposes can be complicated."

But, in the end, they say the $16 million is accounted for and will pay salaries at the Department of Education for 2011.

Now the question is how the state gets by without stimulus.