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Oklahoma Senate’s GOP is calling for December session

Oklahoma Senate’s GOP is calling for December session

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OKLAHOMAN: Oklahoma’s budget crisis remains top issue

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT    
Published: November 20, 2009

Senate Republicans want the governor to call a special session next month to deal with the state’s budget crisis instead of waiting until January as he suggested.

"It’s very clear that more reductions in spending are inevitable,” said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, after Senate Republicans met in a closed caucus meeting. "Agency heads are awaiting our direction as to how much their budgets will be reduced.

"We have a good feel for the direction revenues are heading, so why wait any longer?”

Gov. Brad Henry prefers legislators "do their budget homework” by doing what he proposed, such as holding detailed public hearings on the consequences of deeper budget cuts this fiscal year and getting more reliable revenue information, a spokesman said.


Expense studied
"Special sessions are expensive, and with the current revenue crisis facing the state, it’s especially important that taxpayers get their money’s worth with a well-informed, well-prepared Legislature,” said Paul Sund, Henry’s communications director.
The governor thinks it is more prudent for legislators to wait until the state Board of Equalization, charged with approving revenue projections, meets Dec. 21 to come up with revised estimates for this fiscal year and the first projection for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1, Sund said.

"Governor Henry stands ready to work with legislative leaders to address the budget crisis as quickly as possible, even if it takes a Christmas special session to do it,” Sund said.

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, stayed out of the brouhaha.

"We still believe it is critical that we continue to work together to determine as best we can the budget hole for the current fiscal year and the estimate for fiscal year 2011 before making any rash decisions,” Benge said.

He directed his appropriations subcommittees meet between Dec. 1 and 11 to assess agency budgets. The Senate appropriations subcommittees have been talking with agency heads the past two weeks on the effect of deeper cuts.

Tax revenues for the state could come in about $1 billion below estimates for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

By meeting in special session, legislators could tap the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account, and decide how much of its nearly $600 million should go to agencies this fiscal year.

Tax revenue for the state has come in about 22 percent below estimates this fiscal year.


There was only one option
Since August, the only option for state officials to deal with the revenue shortfall is to order across-the-board cuts in monthly allocations to state agencies. Five percent cuts started in August and are expected to continue through June.
The state also has borrowed $155.5 million from other accounts to keep the cuts at 5 percent. The money has to be paid back by June 30.

Henry said earlier this week it’s expected the state would have to borrow from other funds next month to pay expenses.

Some GOP legislators are concerned about the borrowing practice, saying it basically is committing money from the Rainy Day Fund.

One Democratic senator supported the Senate Republicans’ call for a special session next month. Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, has been seeking signatures from legislators; Corn, who’s running for lieutenant governor next year, needs two-thirds of the 149 legislators. He’s got less than 50, all Democrats.

Under the Oklahoma Constitution, the governor can call a special meeting of the Board of Equalization to declare a budget failure. Then the governor could call a special session, Coffee said.

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