Henry outlines 'important task,' Coffee praises 'honest message'
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Published: 01-Feb-2010

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 01-Feb-2010

Gov. Brad Henry delivered a 35 minute address that combined optimism with a rather somber assessment of state finances, leavened by declarations to oppose cuts in education and to defend “the most vulnerable among us.”

In his last scheduled address to a joint session of the Legislature, the governor described dealing with the revenue crunch of the last 12 months as an “urgent and important task.”

“The economic storm that has seized our nation has also battered Oklahoma. We have a budget shortfall of more than $1 billion. State programs and agencies have already experienced substantial cuts. The state’s lagging revenues reflect the fact that many Oklahomans and their families are struggling with lost jobs and lost wages,” Henry said.

Henry observed that 70 percent of the legislators were “not here during our last revenue failure.” He said, “We cannot balance the budget at the expense of the most vulnerable among us.” He admitted, “more cuts are unavoidable. Agencies and programs, already hit hard by fiscal reality, will be asked to absorb further reductions. There will be an impact, and it will be painful.”

As the state faces a revenue crunch of some $1.3 billion, Henry encouraged legislators to “wield the budget knife carefully, with clinical precision.” He said, “There will be disagreements – and that’s certainly the noise of democracy – but, this session, in particular, critics must do more than cast blame; they must also be collaborators, offering ideas of their own and solutions for the people of Oklahoma.”

Last week, the governor and Republican leaders of the Legislature announced an agreement to provide common education, higher education, the Health Care Finance Authority and Corrections with supplemental appropriations.

Details on the executive budget were being released this afternoon, but in his State of the State address, Gov. Henry identified the EDGE Research Endowment, Insure Oklahoma health insurance and mental health/substance abuse services as other areas for funding emphasis. 

Henry also said he would oppose any efforts “to cut teacher pay or siphon resources” from classrooms.

In a response to the governor’s speech, Senate President Pro Temp Glenn Coffee commented, “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.”

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