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Budget Deal To Be Announced

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Money for teacher pay raises, state colleges and universities, a popular college scholarship program and a proposed bioenergy fund that is one of Gov. Brad Henry's goals are part of a $7.1 billion state budget negotiated by Henry and legislative leaders, officials said Tuesday.

The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, agreed to late Monday following hours of budget talks, builds on a $6.9 billion general appropriations bill that Henry vetoed in March. The Democratic governor complained at the time that it was negotiated by the House and Senate without his input.

``This has been a rather challenging (legislative) session,'' said Henry, who was flanked at a news conference by legislative leaders and most of the 149 members of the Oklahoma House and Senate. ``Every session is rather challenging. In the end we all come together and find common ground.''

He said completion of the budget means the Legislature will be able to complete its work by May 25, when the four-month legislative session is constitutionally required to end.

``We get to go home on time,'' Henry said. ``It will be my pleasure to sign this budget into law.''

The budget includes no money for state employee pay raises. ``There just wasn't the money available,'' the governor said.

It also does not restore $32.5 million sought by a transportation funding advocacy group to repair and replace crumbling state roads and bridges. Henry and legislative leaders said overall transportation spending will increase but that revenue projections prevented additional money from being allocated.

``You can't address everybody's wants,'' Henry said.

Republican House Speaker Lance Cargill said the budget includes ``historic tax cuts'' on ``a whole host of items that benefit real people.''

The tax-cut legislation, signed by Henry late Monday after the budget agreement was reached, accelerates income tax cuts approved last year, eliminates the franchise tax for small businesses and authorizes a back-to-school sales-tax holiday and a tax credit of $60 per child for stay-at-home parents.

Henry, who had until midnight Monday to sign or veto the tax-cut bill, had said whether he signed it depended on the success of budget talks.

``It didn't hurt that we had a deadline. Deadlines are helpful,'' the governor said.

Cargill said the overall budget is slightly smaller than the almost $7.2 million budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30. He said the goal of GOP House members was to spend less taxpayer money this year than they did last year.

Henry said the budget deal leaves up to $35 million in unappropriated tax dollars.

The agreement includes teacher pay raises averaging $1,000 a year, weighted toward veteran teachers and those with advanced degrees. The cost of the raise will be more than $50 million.

Oklahoma is in the fourth year of a five-year program to increase teacher salaries. Henry wants to lift teacher salaries by $2,000 a year by next year to meet the goal, officials said.

The budget plan Henry vetoed included a $600 annual pay raise for state teachers, about half the $1,100 raise Henry proposed in his executive budget.

The agreement includes $10 million to prop up the underfunded state Teacher's Retirement System and $33 million to cover operational expenses at colleges and universities, which Henry said will keep tuition increases under 10 percent.

It also includes a permanent funding source for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, a tax-supported college scholarship program, doubles funding for endowed professorships from $50 million to $100 million and appropriates $16.5 million for building projects at state colleges and the state's Cancer Center.

The agreement appropriates $10 million for a state bioenergy fund to develop a biofuels industry in the state. Funding will include $4 million in existing appropriations for the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology.

It also allocates $15 million to the Oklahoma Centennial Commission for planning and projects observing Oklahoma's 100th birthday this year.

The agreement also includes $5 million for per diem increases at private prisons and halfway houses to ease prison overcrowding and restores a $1 million appropriation for an external audit of state prisons that was a priority for Cargill. Henry had vetoed the appropriation, which called for $1 million in supplemental spending by the Legislative Services Bureau.

At the time, state Treasurer Scott Meacham, an adviser and close personal friend of Henry, questioned the appropriation and called it Cargill's ``chief pet project.''

Henry said he changed his mind about the study following a conversation with Cargill in which both agreed change is needed in the state prison system.

``It's a good way to move forward,'' Henry said. ``I'm convinced that that money will be spent fiscally and prudently.''

Related Stories:

3/19/2007 Agreement Will Keep Legislature On Track To Adjourn

3/22/2007 House Democrats Close Ranks With Governor In State Budget Spat

3/25/2007 Budget Spat Gives House Democrats Reason To Crow

3/26/2007 Governor Says Budget Process Flawed, Line-Item Vetoes Likely

3/28/2007 Governor Vetoes Bulk Of 2008 Spending Bill


4/10/2007 State House Democrats Call For Fresh Start In Budget Process

4/12/2007 Cargill Calls Budget Impasse 'Theater Of The Absurd'

4/15/2007 Governor Brad Henry Using Old Gubernatorial Tactic

4/19/2007 State House Passes Budget Bills, Governor Promises Veto

4/27/2007 Budget Impasse Continues With Veto Of State Agency Budget Bills

5/8/2007 Lawmakers At Impasse With Governor In Budget Talks
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