OKLAHOMA CITY —
The recusal of an Oklahoma County judge from a lawsuit filed by two state lawmakers, that challenges the appropriation of $2 million in state tax dollars to a private, nonprofit livestock show, has thrown a new wrinkle into an already complicated case.
In September, Republican Reps. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City and Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow filed a lawsuit against Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese and other state officials, alleging the appropriation of state tax dollars by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to the Oklahoma Youth Expo livestock show is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money and is unconstitutional.
The lawmakers allege 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.
Reese has said the appropriation is entirely legal and a contract between the state and the Youth Expo was made 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. The Youth Expo’s website said it is recognized as the largest youth event in the state, and this year it had record-breaking attendance with more than 7,000 exhibitors.
Last month, the two state lawmakers escalated the legal dispute with letters delivered to Gov. Mary Fallin and other state officials, demanding they recover the money which was appropriated to the livestock show in August. The next livestock event is scheduled March 16-26.
District Judge Bill Graves was scheduled to hear a series of motions in the case on Thursday, including motions to dismiss the lawmaker’s lawsuit filed on behalf of state Treasurer Ken Miller, Secretary of State Glenn Coffee and others. But Graves, himself a former state representative, stepped aside from the case last week, putting the hearing on hold.
Reynolds said Friday the case has been reassigned to District Judge Lisa Davis, who set a hearing in the case for Dec. 18.
Reynolds and Ritze long have criticized the appropriation of state tax dollars for what they maintain are nongovernment-related purposes, and have said the use of state tax dollars to support the Youth Expo is a prime example.
“I think this is a blatant violation of the state Constitution,” Reynolds said. He said state money has been transferred to the Youth Expo for at least 10 years, and in excess of $4 million has been appropriated.
Among other things, the lawmakers’ lawsuit said a general appropriations bill adopted by the Legislature in May included appropriations for the Agriculture Department, but did not include a specific $2 million appropriation to the Youth Expo or even mention the expo by name. In fact, according to the suit, the measure doesn’t list an appropriation of any kind to the livestock show.
Reynolds said the lawmakers have received no response from Fallin and other state officials, who were sent letters demanding they recover this year’s appropriation to the Youth Expo.