, Muskogee, OK

October 3, 2012

2 lawmakers pull request to stop Okla. Expo money

By Bill Steigerwald
Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY  — Two Oklahoma legislators are pulling a request for an Oklahoma County judge to block the appropriation of $2 million in public funds to a private, nonprofit livestock show, one of the lawmakers said Wednesday.

But state Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, said he and fellow Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, are still pursuing their lawsuit against the state that alleges payments to the Oklahoma Youth Expo livestock show are unconstitutional.

The lawmakers sued the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry along with Board of Agriculture members and other state officials last week alleging it is inappropriate and illegal to use state tax dollars to support private organizations. Their lawsuit also contends that the Legislature has not passed a statute authorizing the $2 million appropriation to the Youth Expo, billed as the largest youth event in the state with more than 7,000 exhibitors attending last year.

A hearing scheduled Wednesday on a temporary injunction to stop the transfer of funds to the Youth Expo was postponed, and a new hearing date was not set. Reynolds said he and Ritze plan to pull their injunction request because the money has already been distributed.

"We can no longer ask them not to cut the check because they cut it," Reynolds said.

Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese told The Associated Press last week that the money had already been appropriated. Reese, a former member of the Youth Expo's board of directors, said the appropriation was made in August in accordance with guidelines that authorize a public-private partnership between the state and private entities to help farmers and ranchers promote agriculture-related endeavors.

Reynolds and Ritze wrote a letter to Reese in July asking him to "refrain from facilitating the unlawful 'pass-through' of state taxpayer money" to the Youth Expo, according to their lawsuit. Reese responding, saying the $2 million appropriation was part of the budget agreement between Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders.

Reynolds said he and Ritze were caught off guard by the Youth Expo appropriation because it is ordinarily made no earlier than November. He said Oklahoma City attorney Andrew Karim, who is representing the two lawmakers, notified Fallin's office of the lawsuit in a letter just days before the money was transferred.

Fallin's press secretary, Aaron Cooper, did not immediately return a phone call to the AP seeking comment.

Reynolds claims the state did not follow Central Purchasing Act guidelines when officials appropriated the money and that a contract between the Youth Expo and the Agriculture Department is not enforceable.

"It's an invalid, improper contract and should never have been entered into," Reynolds said.

An amended petition filed by the lawmakers on Monday challenges the agreement and alleges it was reached hastily and the money appropriated just two days after it was signed.

"Defendants' actions were done quickly with intent to hinder efforts to stop them from paying the money to the Youth Expo and to avoid judicial scrutiny of their non-public and unlawful 'budget deal,'" the lawsuit states.

Among other things, the lawsuit seeks a declaration that the Youth Expo has no enforceable claim for the state to appropriate money to it and that agriculture officials have no legal authority to enter into an agreement to operate the livestock show.

The suit also seeks a full accounting of all money paid to the Youth Expo in recent years.

The next livestock show is scheduled for March 16-26.