Oklahoma Legislature adjourns, finalizes budget cuts

Friday, May 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Legislature adjourned its regular session a week early Friday after putting the finishing touches on a $5.6 billion budget that includes deep cuts in many state agencies to meet a projected revenue shortfall next year.

Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor said the Legislature completed its budget work in spite of a bleak revenue picture for the fiscal year that begins July. The budget includes a shortfall projected at $350 million

``We did everything humanly possible to protect public education, health care, veterans services and other priority programs from the full weight of the budget ax, but in order to do that we had to make cuts in other areas,'' Taylor said.

``We did what we set out to do,'' said House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell.

Gov. Frank Keating expressed disappointment that proposals to reform Oklahoma's tax code and beef up high school graduation requirements were not enacted by the Legislature during its four-month session, which began Feb. 4.

``There was little of significance accomplished,'' Keating said. ``There was a lot of smoke and fury over simply cutting budgets. That doesn't take extraordinary effort.''

The Republican governor, who is in the final year of his second and last term, said he will be reviewing legislation passed during the final days of the Legislature and warned that some bills or parts of bills may be vetoed.

Adair and Taylor, D-Claremore, said they were disappointed that a congressional redistricting plan was not passed by the Legislature. Taylor said Keating had refused to sign one that did not protect incumbent congressmen.

``Speaker Adair and I felt that the new district lines should be based on the interests of the people rather than the politicians, but obviously, Governor Keating disagreed with us on that point,'' Taylor said.

Taylor also said he wanted action on a tax reform plan that called for a reduction of the state's 7 percent income tax and extend the state sales tax to certain services.

But Adair said the state's budget problems and the uncertain economy made lawmakers wary of major problems in the state's tax code.

Keating said he is considering a special session to address tax reform. But Adair said he does not believe lawmakers should be called back to the Capitol.

``There's no reason for us to have a special session. We've done the people's business,'' Adair said.

Lawmakers finalized state agency budgets before adjourning earlier than any other year since the length of the legislative session was shortened in 1989.

The Legislature is required by the state Constitution to adjourn by 5 p.m. on the last Friday in May.

The budget process came together after Keating on Thursday authorized more than $170 million in appropriations from the state's constitutional Rainy Day Fund.

The Department of Corrections received $392.8 million, a 1.2 percent increase over the agency's budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The budget includes $15 million in Rainy Day money that the agency will use to pay for contract beds for the rest of the fiscal year.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority received $396.1 million in addition to $53 million in Rainy Day money. A total of $6.5 million of the Rainy Day funds will be applied to this year's budget.

The agency, which administers the Medicaid program, had requested $474 million to maintain the current level of benefits and will have to raise another $25 million meet its goal, said spokesman Nico Gomez.

``We're very pleased that we did not take a cut as large as some other agencies did,'' Gomez said. ``We really are on a razor-thin margin.''