What could have been an historic agreement on a budget has now degenerated into politics as usual.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders in the Senate and the majority Republicans in the House – a bipartisan group – came to a budget agreement. That agreement would have set baseline funding for state government beginning July 1.
The budget was a good one, meeting most of the state’s needs in a responsible manner with the revenues that were available. The budget was not perfect; but then, I have never seen a perfect budget.
Despite all the progress we made in developing this budget, the governor vetoed all the funding for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. The governor’s primary complaint was “the process” we used to develop the budget, not so much the contents of the budget.
The governor and his negotiators felt they were not sufficiently involved in the negotiations. House Democrats understandably felt they did not have sufficient input into the process, which is a reality for any minority party.
House Democrats have more than enough votes to sustain the governor’s veto, and they have said that is their intention – which is perfectly within their constitutional role. So, we are back to square one on the budget process.
I am deeply concerned that the final budget we produce this session will not be as good a document as the one scuttled by the governor’s veto. The governor’s veto puts the “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday – which even he included in his legislative agenda last year – at serious risk.
As disappointing as the governor’s veto was, and the decision by my good friends in the House Democratic Caucus to sustain that veto, it is not nearly as troubling as the aftermath of this battle.
Republican leaders in both the House and Senate are punishing House Democrats for standing up for what they believe. A large number of bills – a lot of very good ideas – written by House Democrats have been killed just to “get even.”
Republican leaders have admitted as much in news reports; the action is a direct result of House Democrats’ decision to exercise the power given them by Oklahoma voters. Folks, that is just plain wrong.
Instead of focusing on the hard work that lies ahead of us to get a budget completed that reflects our values, Republicans in the Senate and House are wasting political capital to exact revenge on House Democrats. The result is that a lot of good ideas are falling victim to hardball politics.
While I disagree with the governor’s veto and the House Democrats’ decision to stand by that veto, they have the right to do what they did. To turn an honest disagreement into a game of political “gotcha” is petty and childish; all of us in state government have a responsibility to be better than that.