Missouri has received billions of dollars in federal stimulus money and is now deciding how to allocate those dollars. Considering the amount of money involved, guiding principles are necessary to ensure the money is used effectively while maintaining the public’s trust. Here are four suggestions for Missouri.
- Policymakers must recognize that this is a one-time injection of money, so they must not create any new programs that require recurrent funding. Economic recovery will take enough time on its own, and higher taxes will only slow it down.
- Further, stimulus money should only be spent on or reimbursed for pandemic-related expenses, whether they be totally new costs or additional costs incurred from programs facing additional strain. This would allow jurisdictions already transferring money from unrelated funds to pay for virus-related expenses to be reimbursed and the transferred-funds replenished. Spending money outside these parameters would likely lead to new programs and higher taxes in the future.
- Transparency is paramount. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent, especially in a crisis where governmental decrees curtail normal behavior. While it is necessary to move quickly in a crisis, government action should be out in the open in order to strengthen public trust.
- To meet these objectives, Missouri counties and cities should publish their spending—all of it, since money is fungible—as a condition of receiving stimulus dollars. Extending the Treasurer’s Show-Me Checkbook project to receive and include these records would be a logical approach. That way, state policymakers can confirm that local governments have complied with the stimulus transparency requirement, and taxpayers can simultaneously track local spending themselves, now and in the future.
The governor has assembled a task force to determine how Missouri’s money will be spent. Abiding by these principles can help keep government honest and taxpayers informed.