Local & Regional
Wed May 20, 2009
State Budget Settled
By John Durkee
Oklahoma City, OK – Gov. Brad Henry, House Speaker Chris Benge and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee announced a budget agreement today that protects the four core functions of government, including education, health care, public safety and transportation.
Those four areas are at least held harmless in this agreement, all while not tapping the state's Rainy Day fund, leaving about $600 million in place for future needs if necessary.
"I want to thank House Speaker Benge and Pro Tem Coffee for their hard work and bipartisan cooperation during this process. I also want to commend Treasurer Scott Meacham and House and Senate Democratic leaders for assisting me during these negotiations," said Gov. Henry.
"Because of the uncertain economic conditions and projected decline in state revenues, this was a very challenging budget process that required many difficult decisions. With the help of stimulus funds, we were able to protect a number of priority areas, including education, health care, transportation and public safety, but we were also forced to cut many worthy agencies and programs in order to live within our means and balance the state budget. Obviously, we would have liked to do more to shield services from cutbacks, but the budget reality just would not allow it.
"I look forward to working with legislative leaders to enact this budget and adjourn the legislative session in an orderly manner," Henry concluded.
Most agencies, including the House, Senate and Governor's Office, received a 7 percent cut in this budget agreement. Common and higher education see about a 2 percent increase compared to last fiscal year, which should prevent the need for increased tuition. Transportation and Health Care also see increases over last year's budget, and Corrections, Veterans Affairs and Career Tech are all held harmless under the deal.
"In a down financial year, the budgeting process is always difficult as we take close stock in exactly how we are spending taxpayer dollars. This year was especially complicated by the federal stimulus money Oklahoma received and our dedication to making sure those one-time dollars were used as prudently as possible," said Benge, R-Tulsa. "This budget is a reflection of the surgical cuts we promised the people of Oklahoma early in session. The easy route would have been to cut every agency by the same amount and go home. But I commend the budget committee and subcommittee chairmen, who studied each agency budget for areas that could be cut with minimal impact. This effort will maintain many of the core services upon which Oklahomans depend each and every day while ensuring our government is as efficient as possible.
"This budget represents a bipartisan effort that will further enhance our fiscal health because of prudent use of stimulus dollars and a full Rainy Day savings fund that remains in tact," Benge continued. "We are proud that, unlike many states, we lived within our means and did not balance this budget on the backs of hard-working Oklahoman families through increased taxes."
The deal is a fiscally responsible plan that protects the tax cuts already in place. The plan also maintains the commitment to roads and infrastructure, which will help grow Oklahoma's economy and create jobs.
"I'm very pleased with this budget, considering the fiscal environment in which we are operating this year," said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. "Our discussions with the Governor, Speaker and appropriators were productive and unified. Considering the budget constraints in which we must work, I'm proud that Corrections, Education and Oklahoma's infrastructure have been spared from cuts, and that the Rainy Day Fund is still intact.
"I caution all agencies to spend prudently in this coming fiscal year, as next year's budget will be much more challenging," Coffee continued. "But overall, this was a good week for Oklahomans, with major agreements negotiated in good faith for the good of our people."