Fiscal watchdog group backs Republican leaders on rainy day issues
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Published: 12-Feb-2010

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 12-Feb-2010

On Friday, a group that closely monitors state government spending and scrutinizes transparency in use of taxpayer dollars announced support for Republicans who want to retain constitutional reserves for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

Gov. Brad Henry, meanwhile, largely avoided use of the word “veto” as he assessed early signals about the intentions of Republicans in the House and Senate.

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Oklahomans for Responsible Government said, “taxpayers would best be served by a budget agreement that leaves a substantial portion of the Rainy Day Fund intact for Fiscal Year 2012. Governor Henry’s budget proposal does not do this and we encourage House and Senate leadership to stand their ground and pass a budget that does not use up 90% of the Rainy Day Fund.”

Brian Downs, executive director of the group, said, “House Speaker Chris Benge and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee are right and taxpayers should take note of the irresponsible approach Governor Henry and State Treasurer Scott Meacham are taking.” The two legislative leaders referenced are both Republicans, while the two executives are Democrats.

In an earlier story, CapitolBeatOK laid out the gap between the governor’s plans to leave less than $43 million in the Rainy Day Fund and the hopes of Republican leaders to limit the “raid” on the reserve and to keep more than $240 million “in the bank” for future years.

OFRG said Gov. Henry’s plan to spent roughly 90% of the reserve “would leave Oklahoma vulnerable at a time when another huge budget hole would open up because federal stimulus funds would no longer be available. A budget shortfall with little money in the Rainy Day Fund is the same scenario Governor Henry faced when he was first sworn into office in 2003.”

Downs continued, “Governor Henry is spending his way out of office and our next Governor will again have a mess to deal with. I have talked with Democratic leaders and they also say that the Governor is using too much of the Rainy Day Fund.”

OFRG has contended believes the interests of taxpayers would focus on spending cuts now, and retain one-fourth or more of the Rainy Day Fund for future needs. 

On Friday, speaking during the Associated Press Forum at the state Capitol, Gov. Henry said he is confident an agreement will be reached on spending questions. He said his concerns are primarily in two areas: jeopardizing stimulus funds, and wise use of the Rainy Day Fund.

The governor said he signed an agreement with the federal government to use stimulus funds for certain purposes. He said an argument could be made that using up federal stimulus money in the near-term while leaving significant rainy day fund unspent might be considered a violation of federal strictures.

On Thursday, President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said he was considering asking the upper body of the Legislature to suspend rules to allow expedited consideration of budget bills. Asked for his response, the governor said, “The legislative leaders are in the best position to determine procedural questions like that. Of course it will take a two-thirds to suspend the rules, so they’ll need some Democrats to support that idea.”

Coffee said this week he was “running the traps” on both sides of the aisle to assess Democratic support for expedited consideration of budget issues.

Speaker Benge has said he believes an agreement exists to limit the “raid” to three-eighths of the present Rainy day Fund.

The governor took care to avoid “the V (veto) word” as long as he could in his Friday encounter with Capitol reporters, saying, “I am confident that we are going to come to an agreement, before we reach that point. But if I think what’s passed us bit in the best interests of the state, I have shown I’m willing to veto.”

Henry soon added, “This is not a showdown.” He also pointed to revenue news in recent days that make him “cautiously optimistic” that state tax collections are beginning to grow. The state Tax Commission, preparing for next week’s Board of Equalization meeting, is projecting slightly better income estimates – some $67 million before the end of FY 2010 and perhaps $130 more for 2011.  

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