Gov. Kevin Stitt in Owasso

Gov. Kevin Stitt takes the stage as members of his Cabinet look on while visiting Tulsa Tech’s Owasso campus this month. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Gov. Kevin Stitt has restricted the ability of many state agencies to apply for new federal funds and other grant opportunities.

An executive order signed last week requires most state agencies to submit grant applications for more than $50,000 to the governor’s office for approval first.

In a statement, Stitt said the effort was aimed at transparency, accountability and oversight — three standards that almost every Oklahoman supports.

The governor also pointed out that 30% of funding in the state budget comes from the federal government, which is an interesting if not completely relevant fact. Surely, Stitt isn’t suggesting that the state needs to stop accepting the federal funding for health care, roads, bridges and public schools which account for the vast majority of the federal funding in the state budget.

That said, we can see some wisdom in the executive order, but urge Stitt to apply his newly taken power gently.

An ill-advised grant application can commit the state to long-term funding in exchange for short-term money. For example, if a federal agency is offering to pick up the cost of hiring permanent new state employees for two or three years, we should only accept the money if the jobs represent legitimate state priorities that we can support permanently when the federal money runs out. Obviously, Oklahoma should set Oklahoma’s priorities, not the grant makers.

On the other hand, we don’t think the governor needs to micromanage state agencies in their pursuit of funding for creative and experimental projects. If a proposed grant doesn’t represent a long-term commitment of state funding and the agency can make a good argument that the money will be in the state’s best interests, the governor’s choice needs to err on the side of liberality and experimentation. Grants can be a low-risk chance to extend the state’s reach, and it’d be a shame to turn them away under some sort of artificial, or worse, agenda-driven rubric.

As with so many things in government, the devil is in the detail. Having put reins on state government’s ability to apply for grants, Stitt needs to hold them loosely with an eye toward good fiscal practice but not constraint of the positive potential of government.

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