Coffee can: President Pro Tem announces budget accord, Laster agrees

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, an Oklahoma City Republican, announced Wednesday afternoon an agreement to move senior nutrition programs from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to another state agency. Coffee said the approach would elevate discussion of “fair funding” for those programs in the fiscal year 2011 budget.

As a result, Senators passed, by 43-1 margins, two budget bills that had gained majority support on Monday but not the two-thirds needed to allow access to the Constitutional Reserve, better known as the Rainy Day Fund. 

Coffee announced the deal at a press conference this afternoon that included many uniformed law enforcement officers. Sen. Charles Laster of Shawnee, the Senate Democratic leader, told reporters he supported the plan. Laster and other Democrats had been sharply critical of the original budget accord for 2010, and defensive of the unified stance of his caucus to oppose emergency clauses needed to implement that agreement.

The announcement allowed a comprehensive FY 2010 budget deal to move forward along lines previously disclosed. That agreement forged among Coffee, Speaker of the House Chris Benge and Gov. Brad Henry had been endangered by the votes of Senate Democrats, on Monday, against the emergency clauses.

Speaker Benge said, in a release sent to CapitolBeatOK, “I am proud that Sen. Coffee stood his ground against nothing more than a political stunt that risked Oklahomans’ public safety. Passing a budget that was the result of bipartisan negotiations should not have been this hard, and luckily it wasn’t in the House. I have always said everything is on the table as we continue fiscal year 2011 negotiations, and nothing has changed.”

Gov. Henry, in his statement, said, “I appreciate the hard work of Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, particularly Senate Democratic Leader Charlie Laster and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee. It would have been very easy for both of them to throw up their hands and walk away from this budget impasse, but to their credit, they kept the lines of communication open, continued negotiations and struck a compromise that benefits everyone.

“I look forward to working with Senate Democrats and Republicans to implement their compromise agreement to move the senior nutrition program to a new agency and ensure that it is fairly funded in the FY 2011 budget that begins July 1. I believe we should do everything we can to preserve the senior nutrition program and I will be working with Democratic and Republican lawmakers to accomplish that goal this session.”