Gov. Henry Says Budget Top Priority, But More Cuts Unavoidable
Staff and Wire Reports
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Gov. Brad Henry says technology and research is changing perceptions about Oklahoma from one of a Dust Bowl state to one of a world-class economic center.
Henry made the comments Monday while delivering his state-of-the-state address to a joint session of the Oklahoma Legislature.
Henry said biotech startups and nanotechnology are revolutionizing how Oklahomans view themselves and the world. He said medical breakthroughs at institutions like the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation are changing the face of medicine and saving lives.
The governor said information technology, aviation and aerospace are shrinking the planet. Henry said sensor technology and weather research protects homes and families. And renewable energy promises a cleaner planet and new jobs in rural Oklahoma.
The governor admitted Oklahoma is facing an economic storm. He said with a budget shortfall of more than $1 billion, more cuts are unavoidable.
Monday was the first day of the new legislative session and on everyone's mind was the budget. The question is will lawmakers work together to solve what will be a tough year?
"Today, we start the monumental task of building on our successes while navigating our state through troubled times," Gov. Henry said in his State of the State Address.
Gov. Henry wasted no time before getting to the heart of the issue; Oklahoma faces a massive budget shortfall unlike any in Oklahoma's history. He said agencies and programs, already hit by cuts, will be asked to absorb even further reductions.
"The decisions we make will affect millions of Oklahomans today and in the future…the stakes are that high," Gov. Henry said.
But, the governor stated he would not be in favor of cuts to teacher pay or taking away from classrooms and students. He also urged lawmakers to remain tough on crime by investing in mental health and substance abuse programs.
"I found the governor's speech to be boring, and lacking in much sustentative detail, to be honest, I think he fairly characterized with regards to the budget and that is we face a budget hole exceeding $1 billion for FY 11," Rep. Randy Terrill (R), District 53 said.
"Lining out specifics in front of a session really doesn't get you anywhere," said Rep. Richard Morrisette, (D), District 92. "It's like water moving through a pipe. It's going to pick up different particles here and there and what you have at the front of the session and what's at the back of the session are two different items all together."
But in this election year, how will politics come into play? Will Republicans and Democrats work together?
"Election years are always different from non-election years and it plays a role," Gov. Henry said. "We need to put that aside, we really need to stop this bickering partisan ranker."
Monday was the first day most lawmakers got a look at the budget.
Congresswoman Mary Fallin released the following statement after Governor Brad Henry's State of the State speech:
"I appreciate Governor Henry's positive outlook during these difficult times and I fully agree with him that, despite a difficult recession and an ongoing budget crisis, Oklahoma will prevail and continue to move forward. That said, we have some serious work ahead of us. With our economy faltering and more and more Oklahomans worried about their futures, our state government needs to focus on measures that will promote job growth and economic stability. We can start by addressing the skyrocketing workers compensation costs and legal fees that hurt business, further developing and educating our workforce, and addressing the rising cost of healthcare which continues to stifle job growth and chip away at our pocketbooks. All of these measures will encourage job creation and leave us with a more prosperous state. We also need to immediately get down to the difficult job of trimming waste in our state budget and dramatically improving government efficiency. Emptying the state's 'savings account' by draining the Rainy Day fund amounts to kicking the can down the road and will make future cuts deeper and more painful. The time to seriously reduce unnecessary spending is right now.
"Governor Henry is right to encourage our legislators to move forward immediately, but it's important to remember the problems we face now did not develop overnight. Our current budget deficit has been a long time in the making and we have now been operating in an economic downturn for over a year. If I have the honor of being elected our next governor, you can be sure that I will lead an energetic, forward thinking state government that anticipates these crises and acts earlier to protect our families and our businesses."
Senate President Pro Tem Coffee Responded to the State of the State Address:
"The governor delivered a straight and honest message to the Legislature and the people of Oklahoma today. I have not yet had opportunity to study the Governor's budget, but the working relationship between the Governor, the Speaker and I has been very good as we've dealt with this unprecedented fiscal challenge, and I anticipate the cooperation will continue.
"We now have an opportunity for a thorough examination of government programs, and to identify the areas in which the state is not most efficiently spending taxpayer dollars, and to eliminate wasteful programs.
"I'm sure we'll have disagreements on specifics as we move forward with crafting the 2011 budget, but his call for surgical cuts and bipartisan cooperation is one that worked well in our last budget crisis in 2003, and one I believe we can replicate this session, and that we can embrace on both sides of the aisle. I trust we'll look long-term, and consider what kind of government we leave for the next generation of leadership. This is a time for the elected leaders of Oklahoma to work hard and conscientiously for the people of our state, and to work in unity."