House passes Oklahoma budget bill on second attempt, with one vote to spare
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Friday, May 25, 2012
5/25/12 at 7:40 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Republican leadership of Oklahoma's rambunctious House of Representatives rounded up enough votes to pass a budget bill on Thursday, getting 52 ayes - one more than the minimum required - on the second try after coming up four votes shy the first time around.
The bill now lacks only Gov. Mary Fallin's signature.
A united Democratic minority and rebellious Republicans with a variety of objections, complaints and grudges against the budget bill, House leadership or both, plunged the Capitol into 4 1/2 hours of turmoil. With Friday's 5 p.m. constitutional deadline for adjournment looming, the rejection raised the prospect of a special session to get a budget in place by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
In the end, leadership managed to get four Republicans to switch from nay to aye and picked up two more votes from Republicans who did not vote the first time around.
One Republican, Lewis Moore of Arcadia, switched from aye on the first vote to nay on the second.
The budget bill - more properly called the general appropriations or GA bill - accounts for $6.8 billion in state spending, most of it from general revenue. It allows for $314 million for the constitutional reserve fund - commonly called the Rainy Day Fund - and leaves unappropriated $32 million set aside for an aborted income tax cut. It calls for no increases in most areas of government, with a notable exception for the Department of Human Services, which must begin to implement reforms that are part of a legal settlement.
The $32 million will be carried forward to next year's budget, somewhat to the disappointment of all concerned.
By defeating the budget bill, Democrats had hoped to get Republicans to throw the $32 million into the pot. They particularly lobbied for common education, saying it will receive $200 million less in general fund appropriations in the coming year than it did three years ago.
Perhaps indicative of the entire session, Democrats and Republicans could not even agree on whether education funding has gone up or down in recent years. Democrats, including Leader Scott Inman of Del City, Eric Proctor of Tulsa, Jerry McPeak of Warner, Ed Cannaday of Porum and Richard Morrissette of Oklahoma City, argued that general revenue appropriations - the money the Legislature actually controls - have gone down and that per-pupil funding declined even more sharply.
Republicans, including Appropriations and Budget Chairman Earl Sears of Bartlesville, Co-chairman Scott Martin of Norman and Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City, said overall funding increased and that per-pupil funding is misleading because it doesn't take into account Career Tech or the large number of early childhood students in Oklahoma compared to other states.
Inman, in particular, hammered Republicans for advocating tax cuts and failing to pass meaningful reform of tax preferences while claiming to protect core services.
Sears replied that the budget achieved as much "balance" as possible given the slow economic recovery and the demands of state government.
"After three or four years in which we've done nothing but cut budgets, you have a budget in which there are no cuts," he said. "We only have so much, and I think we've done a fairly decent job."
The first vote ended in a 47-47 tie, with 51 votes needed for passage under House rules. The bill started seven votes in the hole - three vacancies, three absences and a constitutional privilege taken by Rep. Corey Holland, R-Marlow, essentially counted as no votes because it's the number of ayes that matter.
The result left the normally composed Sears white with rage, not so much because of the Democrats who challenged him on the floor, but because of the 17 Republicans who joined them.
"I think there is a certain number that is anti-Steele," he said an hour later, referring to Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. "In my opinion, they will do all they can to discredit and embarrass the speaker regardless of the issue."
Originally scheduled to reconvene at 1:30 p.m., the House didn't actually come back into session until shortly before 3:30. The general appropriations bill was immediately brought back up. After additional discussion and debate, it was put to a second vote. It passed 52-42.
Republicans Elise Hall of Oklahoma City, Randy Grau of Edmond, George Faught of Muskogee and Sean Roberts of Hominy switched from nay to aye. Holland also switched to aye, and Weldon Watson of Tulsa, who had missed the morning vote because of his wife's illness, arrived in time to also vote for the bill.
It was not immediately clear why the four Republicans changed their minds. Steele, in a statement, said only, "It's obvious a lot of the votes and claims against this budget were based on politics and personalities rather than actual policy. Once members looked past the rhetoric and saw the facts, they did the right thing and passed a good budget."
Original Print Headline: Budget bill passes on second attempt
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
The Oklahoma State Capitol building last month. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World File