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No across-the-board cuts planned, officials say

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry's proposed budget will not include across-the-board cuts, state budget officials say.

``We went through the process of zero-based budgeting as much as possible,'' said Scott Meacham, director of the Office of State Finance. ``We've tried to identify what each agency needed to be effective. That's more rational than an across-the-board six and a half percent cut.''

Henry was to present his budget and priorities to the Legislature in his first State of the State speech Monday.

The Democratic governor, who took office Jan. 13, has been silent about specifics of his budget proposal.

``My staff has told me that I shouldn't give away any details of the speech in advance because people may not show up to listen to me,'' Henry said. ``Seriously, I plan to provide Oklahomans with an honest appraisal of where Oklahoma stands and what it must do to succeed in the future.''

Meacham said the budget will reflect the priorities Henry has laid out during his first few weeks in office. Education and health care will be held ``as harmless as we can,'' Meacham said.

Henry said he is studying each agency budget ``with a fine-tooth comb to uncover inefficiencies.''

Officials declined to say where cuts or increases will be made.

``Whenever you have a cut in government spending, it is going to create some pain for both employees and those who receive services,'' Meacham said. ``Our goal is to try to do this as effectively as possible.''

He noted that the governor's budget is simply a proposal. The budget goes through the Legislature, and the final document could be much different than the budget Henry submits.

In mid-February, the Board of Equalization is expected to certify a final estimate for the fiscal 2004 budget, which begins July 1.

Oklahoma is in the worst budget crisis in state history. The Legislature will have approximately $600 million less to appropriate this year than in February 2002.

Despite the shortfall, Henry was upbeat in his inaugural speech and said he would approach Thursday's speech in the same way.

Henry, who has continually talked about bipartisanship, said he wants people to put aside differences and work together through the budget crisis.
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