Communications & Public Affairs
April 27, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wes Carter, Press Secretary
Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus
Democrats Call for Accountability of Taxpayer Dollars, a Better Budget Process
OKLAHOMA CITY — House Democrats held a press conference Tuesday to call for transparency and accountability after a string of news reports criticized the spending of taxpayer money by Governor Kevin Stitt’s Administration.
Identifying a pattern of misspent tax dollars and a lack of accountability when discovered, Rep. Collin Walke pointed to several instances where the Stitt Administration failed to protect tax dollars, including inaction for the millions of tax dollars taken by Epic Youth Services.
“Oklahomans, we hear you,” said Walke, D-OKC. “Life is hard right now. You are juggling kids, school, and your job, while gas prices rise. That is why it is more important than ever to have an open, inclusive, and accountable budget.
“Just think back to 2020, when (Republican) Auditor Cindy Byrd released her audit of Epic showing that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were stolen and misspent. As of last month, Auditor Byrd is asking the same question that we all are: Governor Stitt, where are the prosecutions?”
Amid reports of a state contract with Swadley’s Barbecue that forces taxpayers to pay millions of dollars for losses at Foggy Bottom Restaurants, Walke called for the removal of the Oklahoma State Department of Tourism Director Jerry Winchester, who approved the contract. Winchester serves at the pleasure of Governor Stitt.
“Governor, explain to me why Executive Director Winchester is still sitting there?” Walke said. “This was on his watch. The buck doesn’t stop anywhere as long as you scratch the Governor’s back.”
Democrats believe one reason for the pattern of misspent money is the continued exclusion of Oklahomans from the decision-making process.
“The people of Oklahoma’s tax dollars are being wasted by an executive and legislative branch that has acted time and time again with impunity because they think we are not paying attention,” said Rep. Merleyn Bell, D-Norman. “We elected a governor who refuses to work with people who disagree with him, people who differ and offer a different worldview. Oklahomans deserve to be in the conversation about how their tax dollars are spent.”
In addition to the pattern of misspent tax dollars, Democrats explained that without input from the public, the state’s budget process falls short of the transparent process demanded by Oklahoma taxpayers.
“The one constitutional charge we have each year is to build your budget, and we could be doing it a lot better,” said Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-OKC. “There is a transparent way to do a budget, but we choose not to do it. Instead, a handful of legislative leaders and a representative from the governor’s office go behind closed doors and create the budget.
“There is a better way to do it. It requires us to do a lot more work, but you and your tax dollars are worth it.”