Governors Aim for Cooperation on Stimulus Funding
By Kelley Arnold, CSG Membership Outreach
Interbranch cooperation could be a key to states’ successful use of funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
At least, that’s the way Gov. John Baldacci of Maine and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho see it. Both governors have issued executive orders meant to foster transparency and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches.
Governors’ offices across the country have seen a flurry of activity as officials strive to make sense of the federal stimulus package. Some have formed working groups, created new departments or appointed czars. The methods each state will use to spend the stimulus funds are as unique as the states themselves. In several instances, these methods have placed the governor’s office at odds with members of the legislature.
On Feb. 17, Baldacci signed an executive order ensuring the Maine legislature has both oversight and involvement in the allocation and monitoring of stimulus dollars received as a result of the federal stimulus package. According to the order, agencies that request federal stimulus funding are required to brief their corresponding legislative oversight committee on spending plans. Once the committee has been briefed and given an opportunity to weigh in, the agency can then send the request in the form of a financial order to the state budget director, Ellen Jane Schneiter, and Baldacci for final approval.
“I believe that this system will allow for appropriate legislative oversight of stimulus funding while also providing the flexibility necessary to move fast,” Baldacci said. “We are dealing with an unprecedented fiscal situation and an unprecedented federal response. As we move forward, I am prepared to modify this process if necessary to improve the results.”
The order also established Ryan Low, the commissioner for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, as the state coordinator for managing the stimulus funding. Low’s role will be to ensure that all federal standards and stipulations are met in relation to ARRA funds received by the state.
Otter created a stimulus executive committee through Executive Order 2009-06. The order, issued Feb. 17, calls for the governor to appoint a team of individuals at his discretion to make recommendations on how the federal stimulus money can best benefit the residents of Idaho. Before issuing the order, however, Otter met with legislative leaders to discuss the best methods for proceeding under the stimulus legislation.
“The governor sees that the legislature is an essential part of this process. We look forward to working with him to ensure the requirements of this stimulus package and state law are observed, and that there is clarity, certainty and transparency in the process,” state Rep. Maxine Bell, co-chair of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, said.
While state agencies have been working to get the stimulus proposals submitted to the governor’s office by March 4, the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee has spent the week reviewing the individual components of the federal legislation, including the impacts of the recovery act on education, economic development, health and human services, environment, employment, transportation, criminal justice/homeland security and the overall state budget. The goal of the training is to ensure the governor’s office and legislature are ready to move forward with the budget by the time all proposals have been submitted.
“I’m grateful to the legislators who sat down with me and my staff to work through this enormous piece of legislation and agree on a process for ensuring we make good, sound and responsible decisions for the people of Idaho,” Otter said in the press release.
“There remain a lot of unknowns here. It will take a lot of work to get our arms around all the implications of this law. We need to make sure safeguards are in place and that every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. This is taxpayer money, and all of us are committed to seeing it used in the most effective and efficient way possible.”