House Democrats Close Ranks With Governor In State Budget Spat

Thursday, March 22nd 2007, 3:51 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahoma House Democrats closed ranks with Democratic Gov. Brad Henry's administration Thursday in voicing concern over a state budget plan that Henry has said he may scuttle with line-item vetoes.

Henry may need a political alliance with the House's minority party for his vetoes to be sustained. It takes two-thirds of the 101-member House, or 68 members, to override a gubernatorial veto. A veto would be sustained if 34 House members voted not to override and there are 44 Democrats in the House.

"We believe we've got a minimum of 34 votes," House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan of Prague said. "There may be a potential for more. It depends on what gets vetoed."

Morgan said Henry and House Democrats share common concerns about the budget and the process in which it was negotiated by House and Senate leaders without the input of the governor or the House's Democratic caucus.

"Our caucus truly believes that we have a problem (with the budget)," Morgan said. "We're hoping that they see the same concerns."

The Republican-controlled House passed the $6.9 billion spending plan and sent it to Henry for his signature on Wednesday in a bipartisan 84-16 vote. The 48-member Senate, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, unanimously passed it a day earlier.

But the vote in the House did not reflect concerns expressed by House Democrats during debate on the bill and whether to accept Senate amendments. The amendments funded state agencies for the fiscal year that begins July 1 as well as supplemental budgets to help some agencies make it through the current year.

The House vote to accept Senate amendments was 60-40 and fell along party lines.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham, a personal friend and political adviser to the governor, said there is "definitely a possibility" that Henry will veto all funding for the 2008 fiscal year while authorizing supplemental spending for public schools and state prisons.

"That's kind of where we are focusing our attention," Meacham said. Under state law, Henry has until Wednesday to decide whether to sign or veto the legislation. Henry, first lady Kim Henry and their three daughters are vacationing out of state through Saturday.

Meacham said the measure is replete with technical problems. He said it appropriates money to some programs that are defunct and double funds others.

He complained that the budget does not fully annualize higher spending for education or give higher education money for increased costs at colleges and universities, which could lead to significant tuition increases. It also does not address a shortfall in the teacher's retirement system.

"The question has got to be what's the rush?" Meacham said. "There's plenty of time left to pass a budget and get it right."

House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, said the Legislature sent the governor a strong message when 90 percent of its members voted for the budget plan.

"It would be very troubling for the governor to reject that choice," Cargill said.

He described the plan as conservative and fiscally responsible. The speaker said it is preferable to Henry's proposed executive budget, which he said included $1 billion in new spending largely financed by bonds.

"We can't mortgage our children's future with politically expedient programs today," Cargill said.