Budget bill wins approval in Oklahoma House

Five Republican House members switched their votes and another GOP member who had been absent for the first vote voted for an Oklahoma budget bill during the second vote. The budget bill, which won Senate approval on Tuesday, now heads to the governor.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: May 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm •  Published: May 24, 2012
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Four hours after voting it down, the Oklahoma House reversed itself Thursday and approved the $6.8 billion budget bill to pay for state government to operate in the upcoming fiscal year.

The reversal averted a special session. Lawmakers had to pass a budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, by 5 p.m. Friday or the governor would have had to call them back into special session.

House members voted 52-42 to pass the measure about 4 p.m. Thursday, or 25 hours before lawmakers' deadline to finish their business this session. The budget bill, which passed the Senate 30-15 earlier this week, now heads to the governor.

GOP Gov. Mary Fallin, who worked with leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature to develop the budget, is expected to sign it, a spokesman said.

Five Republican members switched their votes, and another GOP member who had been absent for the first vote voted for the measure later in order for the measure, Senate Bill 1975, to pass. No changes were made to the budget bill, said Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesvillle, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

First vote was tied

Seventeen Republicans sided with 30 Democrats to defeat the measure, 47-47 on the first vote. Bills in the House require 51 votes for passage.

Members broke for nearly three hours before the bill was brought up for a second vote. Sears told members nothing had changed except members had time to reflect on their votes during a long lunch.

Sears said House members didn't have time before Friday's deadline to make changes to the budget. Any change would have to go to committees and be approved also by the Senate.

Reps. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, George Faught, R-Muskogee, Sean Roberts, R-Hominy and Randy Grau, R-Edmond, switched their earlier no votes to yes. Rep. Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa, chairman of the House caucus, was absent for the first vote because his wife was in the hospital but drove from Tulsa for the second vote.

Rep. Corey Holland, R-Marlow, who had taken constitutional privilege to abstain from voting on the first vote, switched and voted for the measure. Holland is leaving the Legislature this summer to become a high school principal.

“It's obvious a lot of the votes and claims against this budget were based on politics and personalities rather than actual policy,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. “Once members looked past the rhetoric and saw the facts, they did the right thing and passed a good budget.”

Hall and Grau said they voted against the budget initially because they didn't like $2 million going to the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department for the Oklahoma Youth Expo junior livestock show in Oklahoma City. They changed their minds after learning the money came from special accounts with excess money and not from the state's fund that pays operating costs of state government. They said they also were concerned about the cost of a special session.