Oklahoma House, Senate Approves $6.68B State Budget - News9.com - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

Oklahoma House, Senate Approves $6.68B State Budget

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Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma House and Senate on Friday gave final approval to a $6.68 billion budget bill for the upcoming fiscal year that cuts most state agency budgets by about 7 percent.

But opposition to the plan began to grow as individual lawmakers began analyzing details of the budget that emerged late this week following closed-door negotiations between Democratic Gov. Brad Henry and Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

Some Democrats argued the cuts to state programs went too far, while some conservative Republicans said the cuts didn't go deep enough. Still others opposed the variety of fee increases, tax credit suspensions and other income-enhancing items needed to make the budget balance.

"If each one of us had the pen and had the budget in front of us, we would write it differently," House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, told his colleagues during debate in the House. "If we sat down and wrote a budget, we would have 101 different versions of what this budget would look like.

"It is a true product of consensus."

The Senate approved the budget on a 42-5 vote, while the House voted 66-27. Opposition votes were cast by members of both parties.

A key component of the budget deal -- a new 1 percent fee on paid insurance claims that was expected to generate $78 million to fund health care -- passed the House late Friday night, but did not receive the two-thirds vote on the emergency clause the bill needed to take effect immediately upon the governor's signature.

Although state Rep. Doug Cox said he plans to reconsider the emergency clause vote next week, he said failure to get the two-thirds vote would result in a 90-day delay and leave a $16 million hole in the budget.

"In the grand scheme of things, that's not a very big hole," said Cox, R-Grove, "but if you're a 9-year-old kid that needs his appendix out and you're caught in that hole, it's a pretty major deal."

State Sen. Randy Brogdon, a Republican candidate for governor, said the overall budget plan wipes out nearly all of the state's constitutional reserves and leaves an even bigger hole for next year's Legislature.

"We are stripping our emergency savings account because this body has been slothful over the last several years with overspending," said Brogdon, R-Owasso.

Lawmakers used about $500 million in federal stimulus money and $277 million in cash reserves, leaving only about $100 million in savings.

Other members voiced concern that funding for the state's overcrowded prison system is woefully inadequate and will lead to furloughs of prison guards and layoffs of Department of Corrections employees.

"We simply must find a way to add additional funds to at least get DOC to a standstill budget level," said state Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-McAlester.

The Department of Corrections received a 3 percent cut from what it received last year, a decline of more than $14 million.

In the House, another piece of the budget deal that generates about $25 million by suspending 30 separate income tax breaks for investments sparked more than an hour of debate before finally passing 62-35.

Even supporters of the bill indicated more needs to be done to rein in the more than $5.4 billion in state tax credits that would otherwise go to general revenue fund.

"I feel like we have a gaping wound in this state and we're trying to fix it with a Band-Aid," said Rep. Dave Dank, R-Oklahoma City. "Everybody now wants a tax credit. And they don't want any accountability. They just want the money. It's become a runaway train."

The bill's author, Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, said the moratorium "buys us some time" to study the state's tax credit program to determine whether they produce jobs and should remain in effect.

"The choices are ugly and uglier, bad and worse," Hickman said. "The question is, if not this, then what? Every penny counts when we're in a budget situation like we are."

More: Details of FY 2011 Oklahoma Budget Agreement Deal Released | Details of State Education Budget Cuts Released

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