Oklahoma Lawmakers bicker over budget

Thursday, April 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A state House appropriations committee trimmed the budgets of three state agencies Wednesday as Republicans and Democrats bickered over how to cut costs to meet a projected $350 million budget shortfall next year.

The budgets of the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, the Indian Affairs Commission and the Office of Handicapped Concerns were each cut 5 percent for the fiscal year that begins July 1 by the House General Conference Committee on Appropriations.

Approval of the agencies' budgets was marked by partisan wrangling over attempts by Republicans to make changes they said would save tax dollars.

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

``By the nature and the sound of a shadow committee, it don't sound too good to me,'' said the House's appropriations chairman, Rep. Mike Mass, D-Hartshorne.

Mass said partisanship interferes with the appropriations process and urged House Republicans to share their budget information with House Democrats.

``I'm not here to run a Democratic budget committee,'' Mass said.

An attempt by Rep. Odilia Dank, R-Oklahoma City, to abolish the Office of Handicapped Services and move its function to the state Department of Human Services was turned back.

Dank dropped her motion after Rep. Jim Glover, D-Elgin, pointed out that courts have ruled against adding substantive language in appropriations measures.

Minority leader Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, asked Mass for a breakdown on how agency budgets under consideration by the committee would affect the state's overall budget.

When Mass said they were unavailable, the chairman of the Republican budget committee, Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, moved to withhold action on all the budgets until it was provided. Calvey's motion was tabled.

The budget of the Human Rights Commission was cut by $41,599 to $790,374.

``This cut really hurts them,'' said Rep. Kevin Cox, D-Oklahoma City. ``These people are overworked. But these people are doing a tremendous job.''

The Indian Affairs Commission's budget was reduced by $14,562 to $276,685.

The Office of Handicapped Concerns had its budget reduced by $20,330 to $386,278.