When Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act, it included billions in relief for state and local governments to deal with direct costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the money came with a qualifying catch. It’s only directly available to local governments of at least 500,000 people.
So, the state of Oklahoma gets a share (more than $1 billion). Oklahoma City gets a share ($114 million). And there’s money available for Oklahoma County (at least $47 million) and Tulsa County ($113 million).
But not the city of Tulsa, even though the city has plenty of legitimate COVID-19 costs.
It’s been a few months since we’ve pointed out an obvious example of why unified local government makes sense, but there it is. The people of Tulsa (and Broken Arrow, Jenks, Owasso, Bixby and the rest of the county) are second-class citizens because our cities aren’t quite large enough — at least if the count starts at zero every time you cross an invisible city line.
Our local governments get to accrue COVID-19 costs, and hope for the largesse of others to pay for them.
Tulsa County officials haven’t publicly ruled out sharing some of their funding for cities within its borders, although behind the scenes they say that they don’t think it’s allowed under the federal law.
The state has said it is in the process of setting up a process for sharing $430 million of its money, but that has to spread over 75 counties and all the cities in the state except one.
Since they have such a substantial federal fund to fall back on, we hope Tulsa County officials will find a way to be generous about absorbing a lot of other local governments’ costs in a way that is legal and appropriate. Only a small fraction of the people of Tulsa County don’t live in a city, and it surely wasn’t the intent of the CARES Act to only absorb the COVID-19 costs in rural Tulsa County.
There’s plenty of chances for the county to do the right thing. First responders need protective equipment. Local businesses need help staying afloat. Come on in, guys. The water’s fine.
We also urge the state to be quick about figuring out how to get its share of the money into the pipeline to Tulsa and the other cities and counties it was intended to help.