House budget committee chair seeks oversight over cities, counties’ stimulus funding

Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With millions of dollars still coming to Missouri for COVID-19 relief, one Republican lawmaker wants oversight of how cities and counties spend that money.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Cody Smith (R-Carthage) said he wants to prevent waste, abuse, or fraud of federal stimulus dollars coming to Missouri. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which would financially help local governments and states across the nation.

Smith told the budget committee Monday that his legislation, House Bill 1356, would create the Local Accountability and Transparency Committee, which would oversee federal dollars from the pandemic.

“We’re in a situation where we’re going to have hundreds of millions, if not billions, go out outside the appropriations process in the state and this is an attempt to provide some oversight there,” Smith said. “This is just another level of check and balance that would provide some oversight over the spending of a lot of money where I think everyone agrees this is a really unique time and the margin of error is relatively high.”

The committee would be made up of one senator, appointed by the Senate Pro Tem, one representative selected by the Speaker of the House, the state treasurer, budget director, and state auditor. Democrats on the committee said they want to make sure the committee is bipartisan.

“Make it more of a bipartisan issue rather than what looks, to me, the potential to be something rhetorically to go after Biden dollars and after urban areas for how they spend it,” Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) said.

Rep. Sarah Unsicker (D-Shrewsbury) said she’s concerned that there is no one on the committee from the local side, like the Municipal League.

“Money that appears the federal government didn’t intend for the state to have oversight over,” Unsicker said.

The measure would require local governments to send in their receipts within 30 days to report how they spent the federal money.

“Now, whether or not congress intended for the state to have some say in this, I can’t speak to, but I think it’s necessary considering the volume of dollars that are going out and the lack of experience that a lot of these political subdivisions have with handling these federal dollars,” Smith said.

The legislation would allow the committee to oversee federal money from February of this year until January of next year. The committee would expire at the end of 2023.

The budget committee still needs to vote the bill out of committee before it receives approval from the full House.

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