Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office strongly disputes a legislative bureau’s report that questioned how $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding was spent.
The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency reports says the state failed to provide documentation to justify some spending, a significant component of the relief funds was used for pre-existing needs and government modernization and some of the spending may not have met federal standards for necessary expenses in responding to the pandemic.
Untrue, say Stitt’s chief operating officer, John Budd, and former Budget Secretary Mike Mazzei, leaders of the state’s CARES FORWARD team.
The LOFT report is full of inaccuracies and unfairly criticizes a “monumental accomplishment” in relief work in a crisis.
The final word on whether the state’s spending met the letter of federal law will come from the federal government, and we won’t try to sort that out now.
But whether the spending met the letter of federal regs or not, it seems clear to us that some of it was plainly unwise and not spent on the state’s highest pandemic priorities.
Was it wise to spend $2 million on a marketing campaign featuring Stitt to draw tourist into the state at a time when Oklahoma had frighteningly high COVID-19 infection rates and health officials from Washington on down were discouraging unnecessary travel?
Was it wise to spend $250,000 to lure the Cattlemen’s Congress to the Oklahoma City fairgrounds a few months after the Oklahoma State Fair was cancelled because it couldn’t be held safely?
Was giving an up-front deposit of $2.1 million for 1.2 million masks from a company that failed to deliver the goods a prudent use of taxpayer money?
Was buying $2 million in hydroxychloroquine, a drug hyped by former President Donald Trump but that has proven ineffective against COVID-19, a good deal? If so, why is the state now trying to return all of the drugs?
The federal government gave an enormous amount of money to Stitt’s office to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, and a lot of that money — probably most of it — was spent exactly as it should have been, giving relief to people and organizations that were laid low by the disease.
Some of that spending was disorganized at times and none of it had the sort of legislative oversight that is the hallmark of good government, but fault there lies with Congress, not Stitt.
Still, there’s plenty to question about how some of the relief money was spent, and we’ve yet to hear a reasonable answer.