The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 18, 2012

State gets more time in suit against Youth Expo appropriation

Staff and wire reports
Enid News and Eagle

— An Oklahoma County judge gave attorneys for the state more time Tuesday to respond to a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of a $2 million appropriation of state tax dollars to a private, nonprofit livestock show.

District Judge Lisa Davis ordered the state to respond by Dec. 28 to the lawsuit filed by Republican Reps. Mike Reynolds, of Oklahoma City, and Mike Ritze, of Broken Arrow.

In the suit, Reynolds and Ritze claim appropriating state tax dollars to the Oklahoma Youth Expo livestock show is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money and is unconstitutional.

Davis also denied the lawmakers’ motion to order judgments against Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, State Treasurer Ken Miller and other officials named in the suit because some of their responses were filed about a week late. Attorneys for the state have said that happened “through inadvertence and an honest mistake.”

Attorney James Woodruff, assistant general counsel for the Agriculture Department, argued against the lawmakers’ motion and said whether the Youth Expo appropriation is unconstitutional will require the court to collect evidence and testimony.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin McClure questioned whether some state officials were properly served with the lawsuit, and said a judgment in the lawmakers’ favor was inappropriate.

“It’s a frowned-upon issue whenever the state is involved,” McClure said.

The lawsuit, filed in September, states a general appropriations bill adopted by the Legislature in May included appropriations to 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 lawsuit, the measure does not list an appropriation of any kind to the livestock show.

In October, the two state lawmakers escalated the legal dispute with letters delivered to Gov. Mary Fallin and other state officials, demanding they recover the Youth Expo appropriation, which was doled out in August. The next livestock event is scheduled March 16-26, 2013.

Enid’s three state lawmakers question the lawsuit.

State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, has said he disagrees with state funding for the Youth Expo, but has said the lawsuit is not the way to handle the matter.

Anderson said he would rather see the issue addressed by the Legislature when it returns to session in January.

State Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, has said he has no problems with the appropriation, and doesn’t think the lawsuit has merit.

Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, also said the Legislature should look into the matter.

Reese has said the appropriation is legal and a contract between the state and the Youth Expo was made in accordance with guidelines that authorize a public-private partnership, to help farmers and ranchers promote agriculture-related endeavors.

A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, Alex Weintz, has said she supports the Youth Expo appropriation. Weintz said it advances the mission of the Department of Agriculture, and the state Constitution allows the state to enter a contract with the Youth Expo.

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 10-day livestock show attracts exhibitors, educators and families from all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, and has a $24 million economic impact on Oklahoma City, according to its website.