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Gov. Henry to ponder $7.2B budget

Gov. Henry to ponder $7.2B budget

This article first appeared on Newsok.com.

Passage of proposal will allow legislators to end session early


BY MICHAEL MCNUTT
Published: May 22, 2009

A $7.2 billion budget package to fund state government for the next fiscal year is on the way to the governor’s desk.

Passage clears the way for legislators to wrap up the session today, a week earlier than scheduled.

Governor Brad Henry speaking at the OMRF groundbreaking, Monday, May 18, 2009. Photo By David McDaniel, The Oklahoman

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House members passed the budget 92-7 Thursday. The Senate passed it 46-1 on Wednesday.

Gov. Brad Henry, who was involved in budget negotiations and agreed to the budget, is expected to sign it. Senate Bill 216 takes effect July 1, the start of the 2010 fiscal year.

House Democrats spent about three hours Thursday criticizing House Republicans for not tapping into a $5.5 million House fund to provide money for state services before most voted to approve the budget. Four Republicans and three Democrats voted against the budget.

Rep. Glen Bud Smithson said Republicans who control the House 61-40 should tap into the fund to prevent budget cuts to the Oklahoma Military Department and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Smithson, D-Sallisaw, said the House fund also could be used to provide insurance coverage for state employees who have children with autism. Requiring insurance companies to provide such coverage was a key proposal for Democrats, but a bill calling for it was killed on the second day of the session.

"Shame on you,” Smithson said to Republican House members. "Why can’t we take some of this money and put it in the military?”

Rep. Ken Miller, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said when Republicans took control of the House in 2004, the fund had about $8 million.

The House has used money from the fund to make improvements to the House area of the Capitol and to buy new furniture for most of the House legislative offices. About $1.3 million is being used in the 2010 fiscal year budget to make up for a 7 percent cut in its budget and to pay for increased benefits for House members and staff, he said.

Plans call to use money in the fund to develop some of the space when the appellate courts move out of the Capitol into a nearby judicial building that is under construction, he said.

The budget package is the first one with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate.

"This budget represents a bipartisan effort between the House, the Senate and the executive branch,” Miller said.

Legislative leaders and the governor used about $630 million of federal stimulus funds to make up for declining revenues.

The budget agreement calls for cuts in most state agencies, but common education was spared and higher education got a 3 percent increase. Transportation and health care also got increases. Prisons, veteran affairs and CareerTech received no cuts.

The budget agreement totals about $6.6 billion, which is about $500 million less in state funds than this year’s budget of about $7.1 billion. The federal stimulus money inserted in the budget puts the budget total at $7.2 billion.

The agreement does not call for tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Legislative leaders and the governor want to keep the fund, which has about $600 million, intact because economic conditions aren’t expected to improve soon. That money may be needed for the 2011 fiscal year budget.

State revenues are down mostly because of the national recession and significantly lower energy prices. State revenue is down $614 million for the upcoming fiscal year compared with this year.

"This was a very challenging budget year, and the final appropriations bills illustrate that,” said Henry’s spokesman, Paul Sund. "We would have liked to do more to protect state programs across the board, but the budget reality would not allow it."

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