Oklahoma Lawmakers clash over appropriations measures

Thursday, April 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ State House members voted to cut some agency budgets by up to 10 percent Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans clashed over next year's state budget, which will be up to $350 million smaller than this year.

Bickering over how to respond to the budget shortfall prompted Democrats to accuse Republicans of interfering with the appropriations process for state government.

``I can't understand the obstruction that's being thrown up,'' said Rep. Jim Glover, D-Elgin. ``We need to work on the budget instead of jumping up here and nitpicking on everything.''

Minority Leader Fred Morgan later told reporters that Republicans are more involved in the budget process.

``Now we're called obstructionists,'' Morgan said. ``It appears that the Democratic leadership is trying to provoke a government shutdown. We can't continue to do things the old-fashioned way.''

A separate spat between Gov. Frank Keating and Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, prompted Keating to criticize Taylor's staff, who he accused of issuing ``reckless and false press releases.''

A statement released by Taylor's office said Keating would not engage in ``meaningful budget negotiations'' unless a proposed pension overhaul was included in the discussion.

Keating said that is not true and that he merely wanted the Legislature to conduct an actuarial study of the idea, a request that Taylor granted in January.

``We need bipartisan negotiations. The way they're doing it now is simply not working,'' Keating said.

Members of the House General Conference Committee on Appropriations authorized cuts in the budgets of Keating's office, University Hospitals Authority and four other agencies after Republican efforts to impose even larger cuts on some agencies were defeated.

GOP committee members said deeper cuts would provide more funds for education and public safety.

Morgan and Rep. Mike Mass, D-Hartshorne, the House's appropriation chairman, had several sharp exchanges as Morgan pressed his demand for details of budget allocations proposed by Democrats.

``We'll get them to you,'' Mass said at one point.

``For all practical purposes, there is no plan as long as Democrat leaders choose to keep their proposal a closely guarded secret,'' Morgan said.

House Republicans have organized their own legislative budget committee that is shadowing the appropriations process controlled by the House's Democratic majority.

The budgets of three state agencies, including the governor's office and the House and Senate, were cut by 5 percent for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Republicans proposals to trim each agency by 10 percent, including Keating's office, were rejected by the Democrat majority on the committee.

But House members approved a Republican plan to cut the budget of the Office of State Finance by 10 percent. Staff workers at the office have been assisting members of the GOP's budget committee.

``I think a 10 percent cut would be much more appropriate,'' said Rep. Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, who made the motion. The larger cut would trim the agency's proposed budget from about $8.9 million to $8.4 million.

Cuts would reduce the governor's budget from $3 million to $2.9 million. The state Senate's budget would drop from $15 million to $14.2 million, and the House's budget would fall from $21.5 million to $20.4 million.

The budget of the J.D. McCarty Center for Children with Developmental Disabilities was cut 5 percent from $3.1 million to $2.9 million.

University Hospitals Authority received an 8.1 percent cut, from $45.1 million to $41.5 million.