Bob Mercer reports that both Joint Appropriations and the Government Operations and Audit Committee are trying to keep an eye on how Governor Kristi Noem is spending the $1.25 billion in coronavirus relief funds Uncle Sam has sent us.
Look they ought, as the report GOAC received Wednesday shows that as of June 30, the Department of Tourism had received $3,484,193 for “P.R. & Advert. Consultant.”
The COVID-19 report also showed the state Department of Tourism received about $3.4 million for contractual services. If that’s the administration’s policy, [Senator Susan] Wismer [D-1/Britton] said, there would be difficulty turning down similar claims from municipalities and counties.
“One of the big things is going to be ‘consistent’ across the board,” Wismer said.
Liza Clark, the governor’s commissioner of finance, made an unscheduled appearance at that point. Clark said there was “confusion” among legislators.
…Clark said Thursday that the time she and her BFM staff spend on COVID-19 issues were eligible for reimbursement. As for the Department of Tourism, she said any tourism advertising that promotes safety is an eligible expense too.
So…what: Tourism can make a TV ad in June saying, “There’s a big world out there; explore it safely,” and we can funnel $3.48 million meant to help people survive a pandemic and a recession into the hands of another ad agency?
The folks actually in charge of explaining to us how to keep safe from cooties, the Department of Health, also has a line for spending on P.R. & Advert. Consultant. Their spending so far: two lines totaling $760,869.95, a bit more than a fifth of what Tourism is getting to “promote safety”.
As of June 30, Tourism was the fifth-largest recipient of coronavirus relief fund money, behind the Bureau of Finance and Management ($48.2M, mostly transferred to the Unemployment Trust Fund), higher ed ($10.7M), Health ($5.0M), and Public Safety ($4.7M).
The following agencies have used coronavirus relief funds for air travel:
- Department of Tourism: $2,157.02 on state planes.
- Governor’s Office of Economic Development: $9,038.62 on state planes.
- Governor’s Office: $1,642.20 on state planes.
- Higher Ed: $16,193.93 on commercial flights.
- Department of Human Services: $133.08.
…because all of those meetings absolutely positively could not be conducted over the phone or videoconference.
Meanwhile, the June 30 report said the state had allocated $141,559,628 to municipalities but had disbursed none of it. Of $58,440,367 allocated to counties, the state had paid out $2,852 to Beadle County, $21.50 to Hand, and $50 to Potter. Of course, Governor Noem only announced her release of that 16% of the CARES Act cash to local governments on June 22, so we can understand that it takes time for the locals to file their requests and the Governor to sign the checks when she gets back from her junkets to Washington.