Agreement Will Keep Legislature On Track To Adjourn

Monday, March 19th 2007, 11:33 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ House and Senate leaders have reached a tentative budget agreement that provides emergency funding for schools, prisons and other areas and accelerates an income tax cut approved a year ago.

Under the plan, state agency funding would be assured next year through a huge, single appropriations bill of about $6.8 billion for various state agencies. Some money would be left on the table for decisions later in the session on some programs.

Leaders have kept details of the plan closely guarded. Republicans and Democrats were caucusing in both houses on the proposal ahead of a planned early afternoon announcement by House and Senate leaders.

Besides accelerating the income tax cut, the plan reportedly included tax-cut proposals pushed by the House Republican majority and the Senate, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Those include House GOP plans to eliminate the corporate income tax and to give a tax break for stay-at-home moms and a Senate plan for a sales tax holiday.

Democratic Gov. Brad Henry was not part of the negotiations leading up to the tentative agreement and he wasn't happy about it.

``We're extremely frustrated and disappointed that they have excluded the governor from the negotiations,'' said Paul Sund, spokesman for Henry.

``The appropriations process works best when the Legislature and the executive branches work together to develop a budget, just as they have done every other year under Governor Henry,'' Sund said.

Agreement on budget so early would be in contrast with budget stalemate that led to a three-day special session in June.

House and Senate leaders hope an agreement will lead to a smooth adjournment of the Legislature by a May 25 deadline.

House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, hinted at an agreement during a news conference last week. He said legislators are in ``great position'' to meet the Legislature's self-imposed April 1 deadline to fund public schools.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, and Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, had similar comments.

The legislative deadline to fund schools coincides with the need of local school districts to inform teachers and support personnel by April 1 if their contracts will be renewed for the upcoming school year.

Besides picking up benefit costs tied to last year's $3,000 pay raise for teachers, the new budget plan is expected to provide additional cash for a more modest increase in teacher salaries.

The budget talks have included a tax cut acceleration plan passed by the House that reduces the state's top income tax rate from 5.65% to 5.5% next year and 5.25% in 2009, if revenue growth is at least 4% plus the cost of the tax cut.

The bill accelerates the pace of the income tax cut approved last year. The top income tax rate is scheduled to decline to 5.55% next year, 5.5% in 2009 and 5.25% in 2010, subject to the revenue growth trigger.