As any self-respecting Okie should know, this year marks Oklahoma's 100th anniversary, and the event is being celebrated throughout the state with various and sundry events, festivals, monuments, parades and other organized efforts to create an overall "birthday party" atmosphere for the Centennial.
At least one state lawmaker, though, thinks the state's party budget might be out of control, and recently called the Oklahoma Centennial Commission to task for it, while the state's chief party planner has responded by essentially telling him to "lighten up."
"The commission has provided a list of 147 miscellaneous
projects that may receive state funding as part of the centennial celebration, yet they still have not revealed how much each project will cost," said Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, in a recent press statement released after the commission's unveiling of approved Centennial projects.
"That's unprecedented," Reynolds continued.
"It's not enough to tell the taxpayers where their money will be spent. They have a right to know how much will be spent."
The impassioned lawmaker said he requested estimates from the agency, but the information "has not been forthcoming."
"That's no way to run a business and it's no way to run the state," he said.
Reynolds took particular umbrage at the fact that some projects listed among the 147 have already concluded, while others "appear to have little relation to Oklahoma statehood."
For instance, he pointed out that the "Venture West 2007 Capitol Conference" was included among the list of approved projects.
"How does giving thousands of taxpayer dollars to wealthy
venture capitalists to fund seminars qualify as a 'celebration' of Oklahoma's centennial?" he protested.
Reynolds also said "commission officials have also indicated" that some communities that received state funding for centennial projects have not provided promised local matching dollars.
He said he asked the commission to publicly identify those communities so that they may be asked to return the state funding.
"If they won't provide their matching funds, the state should get its money back," Reynolds said, urging commission officials to "provide full disclosure for all centennial projects before distributing money."
"These questions need to be answered well in advance of final approval of centennial projects and the distribution of the taxpayers' hard-earned money," he said.
Reynolds said they "act like they're dealing with top secret information instead of planning Oklahoma's centennial birthday party."
"While many citizens wonder if many of these pork projects are even necessary, the least we can do is inform them how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent or wasted," the lawmaker concluded.
Reynolds had these comments sent out to every media outlet on the state House of Representatives' mailing list, and several publications, such as Tulsa's daily paper, ran them.
However, according to the explanation given to UTW by Oklahoma Centennial Commission Executive Director J. Blake Wade, in his zeal to protect taxpayer dollars and stamp out government waste wherever it might be found, the lawmaker might have mischaracterized a few aspects of the commission's spending practices.
"He's just looking for ways to be critical," said Wade, who noted that Reynolds was one of only three members of the state House to vote against the creation of the Centennial Commission.
If the information "has not been forthcoming," it's not because the commission is trying to conceal it, but because it doesn't have it yet, he said.
Centennial officials have yet to decide how the $15 million Centennial party budget will be divided among the 147 projects because they've only recently asked communities to update their applications for funding, which includes answering questions about how much they've raised in matching private funds, and when their project will be completed.
Wade said they only recently asked for that updated information because the agency was awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit in which Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent alleged that the $140 million spending bill, of which the Centennial event budget was a portion, violated a state constitutional requirement that funding legislation address a single subject, except in the case of general appropriations bills.
Other expenditures included in the bill were schools for the deaf and blind, public safety equipment, halfway houses, public school expenditures and others.
The lawsuit is still in progress, Wade said, but the state Supreme Court denied an injunction to block the funding provided for in the bill, thereby freeing up the $15 million.
While the funding was still in question, the commission didn't want to commit funds for communities' Centennial projects, Wade explained, but now that the money is available, communities can apply for them.
He said state funds will only be disbursed for projects in which "every state dollar we raise is matched dollar for dollar," and the projects must be completed by the date of the agency's sunset on June 1, 2008.
Wade said he will then be required to turn in an after-action report by June 11 on how the funds were distributed.
An example of one of the Centennial projects is the U.S.S. Oklahoma Memorial in Hawaii.
"We're the only state that has a ship that sank at Pearl Harbor that doesn't have a memorial," said Wade. "That should have been done 50 years ago, and it's something we need to finish."
He said the project costs about $1 million, but there is $650,000 in private funds that have been raised over the past 15-20 years, and Centennial funds will cover the rest.
Other projects include the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, the Tulsa Botanical Gardens, the Oklahoma Jim Thorpe Sports Hall of Fame and the Broken Arrow Women's War Memorial, among others.
Reynolds took issue with some of the projects on the list having already been completed, but Wade said one such project was the Capitol dome, which was dedicated in 2002, and others were for July 4th celebrations, which were paid for out of communities' own coffers.
As for the Venture West 2007 Capitol Conference--Wade said he's not sure what it has to do with a "centennial celebration," either, except that the conference organizers asked if it could be designated as a "centennial event" as a marketing tool because there's so much excitement about Oklahoma's 100th year, but no centennial funds are being used for the conference.
"Oklahoma's centennial is a Number One tourist event," said Wade, who estimated that, by the end of the festivities next year, the $15 million spent on events will have generated "well over $100 million" in tourism.
"And that's not bad," he said.
Share this article: