Hello again, everybody! As we enter the final month of session, areas of both agreement and disagreement among legislators will become sharper and more clearly defined.
With fewer than 15 legislative days remaining in the 2009 session, it finally appears some work is beginning on the state’s budget. Sadly, though, it appears that Republican legislative leaders have chosen to negotiate only with themselves on the budget and have yet to bring the governor or Democratic members fully into the process.
That does not bode well for an overall budget agreement that will merit the governor’s signature or that reflects all Oklahomans’ values. Further, the Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives do not have sufficient numbers to override any potential vetoes the governor might issue on budget bills with which he does not agree.
The tactic used by the majority party to circumvent the legislative process and send certain bills the governor has vetoed to a vote of the people will not work on a budget. The budget must be completed by July 1; bills referred to the people will not appear on the ballot until November 2010.
Writing the budget should be a cooperative process between legislators from the two political parties and the process must include the governor. Because the two means available to legislative leaders to take the governor out of the process are not available on the budget, cooperation is essential to get a budget completed; there is no other option.
It will be very interesting to see how this budget battle shakes out. The stakes are incredibly high. We have $900 million less to spend on state services than we did a year ago. Cuts will be unavoidable; the key is ensuring that the most critical state services – education and public safety – are protected to the greatest extent possible.
While we in Oklahoma have been somewhat immune to the ravages of the national economic slowdown, its effects are beginning to creep into our state. Families are struggling; some fear for their jobs. Oklahomans do not want to see partisan squabbles designed more to score political points than to solve the critical challenges we face.
If ever there was a time for cooperation, it is now. The biggest question to be answered in the next three weeks is this: Will politics as usual win out? We can work together to craft a budget that reflects Oklahoma’s values or we can try to score political points. There is not much middle ground between the two outcomes.
As for me, my focus for the budget – as always – will be on ensuring the critical services on which Oklahomans depend are protected and preserved despite the economic challenges we face. Should any result achieve less than that, then this session may very well be remembered as one of the greatest failures in the history of the Legislature.
Thanks again for reading “The Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.