Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry extols Legislature to cuts costs, resist tapping into Rainy Day fund

By Michael McNutt - Capitol Bureau Modified: February 2, 2009 at 2:31 pm •  Published: February 2, 2009
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Addressing the first-ever Republican-controlled Legislature, Gov. Brad Henry told lawmakers today they must exercise thrift and sacrifice to tackle a $600 million budget shortfall.

The governor, in a speech to kick off the first session of the 52nd Legislature, said his budget proposal calls for “precise, surgical cuts while protecting vital state functions such as education, health care, transportation and public safety.”

“As Oklahoma families take a hard look at their own expenses and cut where they can, we must do the same,” Henry said in prepared remarks released in advance.

“State agencies must tighten their budgets. Some projects must be put on hold.”

He’s proposing state purchasing reforms and consolidating information technologies, including services the state offers online, to also tackle the shortfall.

Henry, a Democrat, spoke to a joint session of the House, controlled by Republicans since the November 2004 elections, and the Senate, which the GOP took control of for the first time ever after November’s elections.

Despite the state’s budget woes, Henry, making his seventh State of the State address, sprinkled optimism through his address and quoted Oklahoma favorite son Will Rogers and Mahatma Gandhi, the historic political and spiritual leader of India.

Borrowing Rogers’ line that if you don’t like Oklahoma’s weather to just wait five minutes because it will change, the economy also is uncertain, Henry said.

“Today’s showers could be tomorrow’s tempest,” the governor said, “and so we must resist the urge to raid the Rainy Day Fund.”

The Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account, is full, with nearly $600 million, Henry said. Henry said legislators need to keep it in reserve because the 2011 fiscal year could be worse.

Henry, who faced a tough economic shortfall in his first year as governor in 2003, said legislators this year – just as six years ago – will be able to craft a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year without passing tax increases.

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