OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Legislature will call a concurrent legislative session to allow public input to continue to drive how $1.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are spent.
The concurrent session, to begin Wednesday, allows the Legislature to immediately return in the interim to enact an ARPA spending plan as agreed to by the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding.
The joint committee was established last year as an intra-branch partnership process with the executive branch to determine how ARPA funds are to be spent. Public committee hearings and project submissions have been ongoing for months and are continuing.
Through the joint committee process, $17.8 billion has been requested through 1,400 projects submitted by the public to the committee. The state has $1.8 billion to allocate.
"Ensuring the joint committee's public-driven process can run its full course is in Oklahoma's best interest. A concurrent session allows for a comprehensive, strategic plan to be enacted through appropriations after a full vetting of submissions and public discussion of how to best deploy these resources," said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
After months of public testimony identifying needs ARPA funds could address statewide, Oklahoma has established several priorities for strategic investments. These match needs identified through portal submissions, as well.
"Oklahoma established a strong process, driven by the public, to place the legislative and executive branches in a partnership to listen to the public's wishes for ARPA dollars. This action simply keeps that train on track," said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.
The vast majority of states have used their traditional budgeting process to deploy ARPA funds, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Oklahoma's budgeting process involves both the legislative and executive branches.
"The joint committee and its executive branch partners have been digging deep and preparing an outstanding plan for use of the significant taxpayer dollars available to state government through ARPA. We look forward to continuing the work we started together in a manner consistent with how the vast majority of other states are allocating these funds," said House Speaker Pro Tempore Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow.
The special session call also covers appropriations related to Project Ocean, a transformational economic development project considering Oklahoma for a major manufacturing operation. Under legislation introduced this session, $698 million would be allocated under the Large-scale Economic Activity and Development Act (LEAD Act) to pursue Project Ocean.
"We are confident Project Ocean will choose Oklahoma, but should it not, this mechanism allows for the legislative action necessary for the allocated funds to be quickly recaptured," Hilbert said.
Related to Project Ocean, the Fiscal Year 2023 budget agreement reserved $250 million for the Progressing Rural Economic Prosperity Fund (PREP) to help retrofit areas of Oklahoma such as industrial parks to compete for future economic opportunities.
"The details of how to best deploy that $250 million in a way that helps make all of Oklahoma competitive for future economic megaprojects remain under discussion and, once finalized, can be codified in this session," said Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Chuck Hall, R-Perry.
The concurrent session will begin Wednesday and reconvene at the call of the chair sometime in the legislative interim when the ARPA spending plan is final or action is needed related to the LEAD Act or PREP Fund. The concurrent session can remain open after regular session adjourns, which must occur by 5 p.m. Friday, May 27.
"The steps taken today ensure that the distribution of these funds will be done in an open and transparent manner, even while the Legislature is not in regular session. I look forward to getting these federal funds distributed to benefit the people of Oklahoma," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah.
Under the Oklahoma Constitution, the Legislature may call itself into session when two thirds of the members of each chambers sign a call for special session. The signed call for each chamber will be publicly filed later today. The session call reads as follows:
STATE OF OKLAHOMA
58th Oklahoma Legislature (2022)
SPECIAL SESSION CALL
WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 27A of Article V of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma, the Legislature may be called into special session by a written call signed by two-thirds of the members of the Senate and by two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives. When the call is filed with the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, they must convene a special session; and
WHEREAS, the State of Oklahoma has substantial federal funds available for expenditure pursuant to the provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, H.R. 1319, P.L. 117-2 (“ARPA”) and pursuant to the provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, H.R. 3684, P.L. 116-58; and
WHEREAS, to ensure that the proper oversight concerning the expenditure of those funds, to maximize the value of the federal funding for the citizens of the State of Oklahoma, and ensure compliance with 62 O.S., Section 34.501, the Legislature should continue to exercise controls over and involve the public in the decision making process regarding those funds, including, but not limited to the passage of appropriation measures and substantive legislation related to the expenditure of those funds; and
WHEREAS, the Legislature has passed Enrolled House Bill No. 4455 (“LEAD Act”) and the measure has been signed into law, providing a specialized economic development incentive which will require an appropriation to fully implement; and
WHEREAS, to ensure effective utilization of the provisions of the LEAD Act the Oklahoma Legislature may need to enact legislation during the period of time following Sine Die adjournment of the 2ndRegular Session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature and prior to the convening of the First Regular Session of the 59th Oklahoma Legislature; and
WHEREAS, the State of Oklahoma may also need to address issues of critical importance to statewide economic development.
NOW, THEREFORE, we the undersigned members of the Senate and House of Representatives, pursuant to Section 27A of Article V, of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma, hereby:
Direct that the call and order be spread upon the pages of the journals of the Senate and of the House of Representatives.
Contact: John Estus
Office of House Speaker Charles McCall
Capitol: (405) 557-7439
Cell: (405) 706-0084
Contact: Jeff Peters
Office of President Pro Tempore Greg Treat
Capitol: (405) 521-5632