DALLAS - Republican chairs of appropriations committees in both houses of the Oklahoma Legislature have attacked Gov. Brad Henry's fiscal 2009 budget as contradictory and confusing.
Sen. Mike Johnson, R-Kingfisher, co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond, the newly appointed chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said the budget numbers do not reflect the rhetoric of Henry's state of the state address to the Legislature on Feb. 4.
Johnson called the Democratic governor's proposed executive budget "a work of fiction" that is "not based on reality."
"This is a smoke-and-mirrors budget," he said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. "If we passed this budget tomorrow, the governor would have to veto it because it would be unconstitutionally out of balance."
The Legislature is facing tough budget decisions due to a decline in state revenue, according to Johnson.
"The governor is proposing half a billion dollars in new spending proposals, by our account, and he seems to be pulling many revenues and savings out of thin air to make his numbers appear to balance," he said.
In his address, Henry asked lawmakers to fully fund the program that uses bond proceeds to match private donations for endowed chairs at state colleges and universities. However, Johnson said debt service for the additional bonds needed to work off the current $88 million backlog in the endowed chairs program was not included in the executive budget proposal.
'We need to either fulfill our promise for endowed chairs, fund those, or we need to say we're not going to do it and quit making that promise," Johnson said.
The 2007 Legislature increased the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority's capacity for issuing endowed chair bonds from the original $50 million to $100 million, but did not fund the debt service so no bonds were issued.
The authority sold $50 million of the bonds in February 2006.
Rep. Miller also said the governor failed to include in the budget the debt service required for the $189 million of capital project bonds he is seeking.
"This budget is typical Brad Henry," Miller said. "He is for everything. We have the pesky obligation to pay for the bills we pass into law."
Henry spokesman Paul Sund said Henry is disappointed that the legislators did not contact the governor's office to discuss their concerns before holding the news conference.
"If legislative leaders had sincere questions about the budget, we trust they would have contacted us directly instead of staging a publicity stunt for the news media," Sund said in a statement. "Gov. Henry welcomes constructive criticism and discussion of his ideas, but he would also challenge the legislative critics to offer alternative ideas to meet the state's needs. Simply bad-mouthing one proposal without offering an alternative does not serve taxpayers well or move the state forward."
Sund said the governor hopes Republicans in the Legislature will give the executive budget "a full and fair hearing before passing judgment."
The Republicans control the House 57 to 44, but the Senate is split 24 to 24, and operates on a shared power basis with dual officers and committee co-chairs from each party. The Legislature is scheduled to end its 2007 session on May 30. q