Oklahoma Youth Expo funding subject of lawsuit
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
9/26/12 at 7:25 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Two state legislators have filed suit seeking to block $2 million in state funding for the privately operated Oklahoma Youth Expo, the world's largest junior livestock show.
But they're too late, state Agriculture Commissioner Jim Reese said. The money has already been spent.
In their suit, Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, argue that the money for the expo is unconstitutional for several reasons, including that there is no specific language in the state budget authorizing the spending, that the expenditure would use public money for a private purpose, that the money would be an illegal donation of state money and that funding for the expenditure comes from state funds that are not authorized for that use.
Much of the disagreement revolves around the differences between the state budget deal, the informal agreement between legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin on how state funding should be spent, and the state budget bill, the legal vehicle authorizing spending.
Whereas the budget deal contained many specifics, the law was short on details.
Legislative leaders and Fallin's office have previously said $2 million for the financially troubled expo, which is held in Oklahoma City, was part of the budget deal that was worked out behind closed doors during the final weeks of the legislative session. But Senate Bill 1975, the general appropriation bill approved by lawmakers in May, doesn't specify any money for the expo.
Instead, the bill allocated money to the state Department of Agriculture to perform duties imposed on the agency by law.
"SB 1975 does not include a specific appropriation of $2 million for the Youth Expo," the lawsuit says. "The measure does not even mention the Youth Expo or contain an express appropriation of public funds in any amount for the Youth Expo."
Without specific language in law, the Agriculture Department has no authority to give money to the expo, the suit says.
Reese said the state Agriculture Department signed a contract with the Youth Expo to operate the event on Aug. 13 and that the $2 million has already been given to the nonprofit group.
Although other states operate similar events through their state agriculture departments, Oklahoma chooses to operate one by contract with the expo, but that doesn't make the spending illegitimate, Reese said.
State law clearly authorizes the Agriculture Department to spend money in the promotion of agriculture, and that is what the expo does, he said.
Reese serves on the board of directors of the expo, as have previous state agriculture commissioners.
The suit asks for an injunction to prevent the money from being spent with the expo and for a complete accounting of any money already spent there.
In addition to the state, defendants named in the suit are Reese, the members of the state Board of Agriculture, the director of the Office of State Finance, state Treasurer Ken Miller and Secretary of State Glenn Coffee.
Original Print Headline: Lawsuit filed over state funding of Youth Expo
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Rep. Mike Reynolds (left) and Rep. Mike Ritze: They seek to block $2 million in state funding for the junior livestock show.