OKLAHOMA CITY – Hello again, everybody! As I write this week’s column, I am working in the Senate chamber on the final day of the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature.
The adjournment came a week earlier than required by the Constitution; the early adjournment was possible because of a bipartisan budget compromise reached early on the final week. Writing the budget – the most important job of the Legislature – was made far more difficult because of the $900 million shortfall we faced when the session began four months ago.
With hard work, and considerable help from federal stimulus dollars, we were able to balance the budget without breaking into the state’s “Rainy Day Fund.” The state’s savings account is designed to shore up the budget when times are at their worst.
We are in uncertain economic times, and I felt it was incredibly important to protect the “Rainy Day Fund” this year. We hope the national economic slowdown is near its end, but next year, state revenues could be worse. Still, we are in far better shape than most of our sister states.
That reality led me to the conclusion that this was not the year to open up the “Rainy Day Fund.” Thankfully, my colleagues agreed.
This year’s budget saw many agencies take a seven percent cut, with the exception of education, health care and public safety. Those were held harmless, and some educational functions received a moderate increase.
That is yet another piece of evidence to show that the greatest earthly resource we have is the human resource. Education is the means by which we have the opportunity to reach our potential – to become what God intends for all of us.
This was not a budget everyone liked – but given the economic realities our nation is facing, it was as good a budget as could have been written. It will not be without some pain; some important programs were cut.
As the final week began, many of us from rural Oklahoma were deeply concerned with the budget agreement. The Rural Economic Action Plan – or REAP – was completely stripped from the budget. REAP is a vital program that ensures smaller communities have resources to make critical infrastructure improvements.
Beginning with Senate Democrats’ refusal to support the $7.2 billion general appropriations bill, it became apparent that without REAP, the budget agreement would collapse. A bipartisan effort ultimately saved this important program – and the entire budget agreement – with a cut of seven percent from the previous year’s $15 million allocation.
The agreement to save REAP is a perfect example of a session marked by both partisanship and bipartisan cooperation. In the next several editions of “The Senate Minute,” I will discuss bills passed, missed opportunities and the legislative struggles that are part of the history that will be written about the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature.
Thanks again for reading “The Senate Minute,” have a great week and may God bless you all.