Budget Impasse Continues At Capitol


Tuesday, April 10th 2007, 6:25 pm
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Legislative leaders agreed Tuesday on a new appropriations strategy that still ignores Governor Brad Henry's demand that he be included in budget negotiations.

Henry expressed disappointment. He said House and Senate leaders were choosing "a course of confrontation rather than cooperation."

Under the agreement, lawmakers would send Henry single appropriations bills instead of lumping everything into one huge budget plan like the $6.9 billion general funding measure Henry vetoed two weeks ago.

"Instead of sitting down to negotiate with all the players as I have suggested, legislative leaders are apparently attempting another end run that excludes the executive branch," the Democratic governor said.

Plans call for action on five individual appropriations bills in the Senate on Thursday.

Senate Appropriations Co-Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore, was informed late Tuesday that the new budget agreement had been reached by House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah; Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, and Senate President Co-Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City.

Crutchfield could not identify which appropriations bills would be brought up for a vote.

After vetoing the general appropriations bill, Henry said it was not a "true bipartisan" measure. He complained it shunned his priorities and was put together without conferring with the governor's office and House Democrats.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the 101-member House, 57-44. Democrats and Republicans are evenly divided with 24 members each in the 48-member Senate.

Damon Gardenhire, Cargill spokesman, said from speaker's standpoint, the governor has refused to provide the Legislature with new budget numbers.

"So now the leadership in the Legislature is going to move the process forward."

Henry has declined to provide a new budget, saying he outlined his priorities in February. He said negotiations on a budget among all factions of the Legislature were the way to proceed.

On Tuesday, the governor said legislative leaders seemed more interested in "playing a game of power politics than in building a budget that truly reflects the needs of Oklahoma taxpayers.”

"I don't think that kind of behavior is in the best interest of the state and I know that's not what voters had in mind when they elected their leaders last November," he said.

Henry said he had detailed his concerns about the general appropriations bill and again called on legislative leaders to "sit down at the table and build the best budget possible."

In a separate development, Crutchfield said leaders had agreed on more supplemental funding for the Department of Corrections in the range of $20 million to $25 million to operate prisons for the rest of the fiscal year.

Henry vetoed all of the money in the GA bill except $92 million in supplemental funding for schools, prisons and other areas. Prisons got only $9.6 million in the first supplemental package, a fraction of the $47 million sought by corrections officials.

Crutchfield said lawmakers are still operating under figures from the previous budget agreement among leaders, that called for cutting some new taxes and accelerating the income tax cut approved a year ago.

Under that plan, legislators had only about $66 million to spend for the rest of the session and have set aside about a third of that for prisons.

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