Saturday, February 07, 2009

Nodler: Bi-partisan bill would add transparency to state use of stimulus funds

A bi-partisan bill sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, and Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis aims to create transparency in the state of Missouri's use of any funds it may receive through the federal stimulus program.

Nodler explained the bill in his weekly report:

This would be an interesting week to be in Washington, D.C., as the U.S. Senate continues to work on an economic stimulus plan that is now in the neighborhood of $900 billion. As work there continues, my concerns grow about the funding that Missouri could receive. Last week, I talked about the importance of closely tracking any dollars that come in through the federal recovery package. This week, I have filed legislation that would more specifically address this issue and keep our state open and honest about spending. I am pleased to say I have the support of Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, who has signed on as the cosponsor of the bill.

At this writing, the debate is continuing in the U.S. Senate over the particulars of
the federal stimulus plan. Current drafts have almost one-quarter of the recovery package going directly to states. This funding comes in a variety of forms including federal aid to state-sponsored health care programs, education funding, and infrastructure improvements. Senate Bill 313 would create two separate funds within the state treasury to receive and retain the funds Missouri receives through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009–ensuring that every dollar received is accounted for. Any money the state receives that is intended to replace general revenue, including the temporary increase in Medicaid reimbursements, would be deposited into the “Federal Budget Stabilization Fund.” Additional funds received under the act would be deposited into the “Federal Stimulus Fund.” With this legislation, funding for identified projects would be paid through the specially-created fund rather than being mixed with Missouri’s general revenue.

One advantage to the creation of the “Federal Stimulus Fund” is that it could help
our state gain preference to receive grants through the federal plan. We need to be
prepared to utilize any federal funds as quickly and effectively as we can, while making sure each dollar is accounted for.

The creation of these two funds is not a new idea for our state. While most of the
appropriations made by the Legislature come from General Revenue, there are a variety
of funds in Missouri’s treasury for money that is taken in through other ways. For
example, there is a fund for the state’s share from the tobacco settlement, a fund created to accept and then distribute payments from the Missouri Higher Education Loan
Authority for campus construction projects, and even a fund to collect admission fees
from the Missouri State Fair. These funds were created in order to make sure that the
dollars being taken in didn’t merely get absorbed into the state’s general funds—
providing an exact record of what is received and what is subsequently spent.
We remain unsure as to what results the federal government may ultimately provide, and I am committed to creating a balanced budget based on the funds Missouri has now. However, we must also remain prepared to handle any additional one-time federal dollars with responsibility, effectiveness, and transparency.

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