Stimulus Has Some States’ Branches Working Together,
Others a Push-Pull
By Mikel Chavers, CSG Associate Editor
With the first round of stimulus funding hitting the states, it is becoming clear in most states what part of state government is taking the lead on tracking and spending federal stimulus funds. In some states, the governor’s office and the legislature are working together for all things stimulus-related, coordinating responses with state agencies and cities and towns.
But in other states, it’s a real push-pull between the legislature and the governor’s office—a battle of the branches to see who gets the reigns to stimulus funding—an affair that involves millions or even billions of dollars and the power to determine what projects get a boost.
In New Hampshire, the executive branch is the clear leader, according to Colin Manning, a spokesman for New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch. Lynch officially created an Office of Economic Stimulus within the governor’s office and that office basically coordinates the state’s actions when handling stimulus dollars.
“A lot of it’s coming through the executive branch right now,” Manning said.
The first projects announced, of course, were transportation projects. “A lot of (the money) we’ve been seeing already is going to be going out through existing channels,” Manning said. “There are some areas where there are maybe some areas of grants that we don’t apply for because there’s no channel to funnel the money.”
But when asked about legislators who were intimately involved with the process, Manning couldn’t name any.
That may be due, in part, to a resolution in the New Hampshire House calling for state sovereignty—that could basically allow the state to ignore any federal law or policies they deem unconstitutional, and that includes the stimulus bill. Rep. Daniel Itse’s House Concurrent Resolution 6 on state sovereignty did not gain enough support in two out of three votes in the House March 4.
“From some of the verbiage, a lot of states are getting the feeling that the governor’s office is driving the car and the legislature is just along for the ride,” said Missouri Sen. Scott Rupp, also the chair of the Select Committee on Oversight of the Federal Stimulus.
So Missouri’s legislature is also working on legislation—Senate Bill 313—that will help track and distribute stimulus funds that don’t already have set channels for the money to flow through. Rupp said the bill that just passed the Senate in late February basically creates special line items in the state’s budget to be a catch-all to receive the stimulus funds.
That allows the legislature to actually receive the money so there is a dedicated and recorded starting point. Transfers would then be made out of those line items and must be approved y the legislature—a sort of paper trail, Rupp said.
Approving those transfers of what will amount to millions of dollars may require the legislature going into special session, Rupp said. And that’s just fine with him.
“We’re just trying to reign in some type of oversight,” Rupp said. “The sheer amount of money that’s flowing into these states is ripe for abuse.”
Wisconsin’s legislature has already pre-approved $300 million in spending from the federal stimulus so the state can move forward with transportation projects through Senate Bill 62. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed the bill Feb. 19.
That pre-approval was done before any stimulus dollars were released because, with Wisconsin’s unemployment currently pushing 8 percent, said House Speaker Mike Sheridan, everyone feels a sense of urgency.
And in Wisconsin, perhaps there is no push and pull between the governor’s office and legislature—at least according to Sheridan. That may be because Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is a Democrat and both the state House and Senate hold a Democratic majority. Sheridan did say he was disappointed there wasn’t more support from Republicans in the state.
The Joint Finance Committee will be the body in charge of oversight for the federal stimulus dollars and Sheridan believes the committee is a proven group fit for the job of watchdog when it comes to how Wisconsin spends stimulus funds.
In Alaska, Sen. Lesil McGuire introduced Senate Bill 130 to establish the Alaska Economic Stimulus, Stability and Job Security Task Force Feb. 27.
Under the bill, a nine-member task force comprised of House members, Senate members, governor appointees and a representative from the Alaska Municipal League, would assess the stimulus money appropriated and recommend to the legislature how that money should be used. A spokesperson for the state’s Office of Budget and Management said the Alaska Constitution requires legislative approval for expenditures, and that will include stimulus funds.
In South Carolina, where the governor is still deciding what parts of the stimulus funding the state will accept, the legislature plans to take some budget stabilization money, regardless of the governor’s intentions, according to Rep. Joan Brady, a 2005 alumnus of the Toll Fellows leadership program of The Council of State Governments.
“The individual state agencies are applying for grants, just in case,” Brady said in an e-mail. “The governor has not given the legislature any direction as to whether or not he will accept applied-for grants.”
For more on what branch or branches of state government are taking the lead on stimulus funding and allocation in the states, check out StateRecovery.org, a special service from The Council of State Governments. State News magazine will also feature a special in-depth look at how the states plan to funnel the federal stimulus funds in the April issue.