State Lawmakers Discuss Budget Veto

Thursday, March 29th 2007, 5:55 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A day after Governor Brad Henry vetoed a $6.9 billion budget plan passed by the state House and Senate, Republican legislative leaders on Thursday challenged the Democratic governor to propose a plan of his own.

House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, and Senate co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said it's up to Henry to jump-start negotiations on a new budget plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and that they are waiting to see the details.

"We need to see a plan. We want to know specifics from this governor," Coffee said.

"We haven't seen those details," Cargill said. "Where's the plan? Where is it?"

Meanwhile, Henry sent letters to House and Senate leaders late Thursday inviting them to launch a new round of budget negotiations next week.

"It's time to get together in a room and start hammering out details," said Paul Sund, spokesman for the governor. "You can't negotiate a budget by press release. You've got to get the principals in a room and get them talking."

Henry vetoed the 2008 spending bill on Wednesday while criticizing a "flawed process" in which the measure was negotiated by House and Senate leaders without input from his office or the state House's Democratic caucus.

Coffee said it's pointless to meet with Henry without first seeing his budget proposals. He predicted the final budget "will be remarkably similar" to the one Henry vetoed.

Cargill said state Treasurer Scott Meacham, an adviser and close personal friend of the governor's, has said that the governor agreed with up to 90% of the spending plan.

"We can only assume that the veto is more business as usual and political posturing," Cargill said.

Cargill said the House's GOP majority is skeptical of the $7.2 billion executive budget Henry proposed on the opening day of the 2007 Legislature in February. The budget included $1 billion in new spending, $750 million of which would be financed with bonds, according to the speaker.

The governor's proposed budget focuses on different spending priorities than the one passed by the House and Senate.

"We're simply not willing to mortgage our children's future," he said.

The speaker also expressed concern that the governor is noncommittal on a tax cut package agreed to by House and Senate leaders. The package includes accelerating three years of income tax cuts into two and a tax credit for stay-at-home parents.

"Taking agreed-to tax cuts off the table, in my opinion, is a tax increase," Cargill said.

Cargill indicated the House's Republican majority is in no hurry to try to override Henry's veto.

House Democrats have vowed to support the governor's veto. An override requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature. There are 44 Democrats in the 101-member House – 10 more than are needed to defeat a veto override.

Some Democrats expressed concern that Republican leaders may try to pressure them into cooperating by refusing to hear their legislation in Republican-controlled committees.

"What I've told my members is don't go out of your way to be helpful," Coffee said. "I have told them not to go out of their way to hear House Democratic bills. The committee chairmen are making their own decisions."

House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan of Prague said it would surprise him if Democratic legislation was killed over the budget veto.

"That would be awfully petty on their part and I don't think they would do that," Morgan said.