Gov. Brad Henry's last legislative session was among his most challenging, as he worked to keep budget talks on track and vetoed legislation that he thought went too far against the federal government and individual rights.
Talks to produce a $6.7 billion budget for the 2011 fiscal year almost broke down at least two times in the past month. House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, confirmed Friday after this year's session adjourned that he and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, had scheduled a news conference May 19 to announce budget talks were at an impasse. Had that occurred, a special session in June would have seemed likely to finish working on the 2011 fiscal year budget, which starts July 1. A budget agreement was reached May 20.
'We remained friends'Henry, who prides himself on being a nonpartisan leader during his eight years in office, said that "even through the most challenging and difficult and contentious issues our discussions and negotiations remained very cordial. We remained friends.” As a result, he called the session "very difficult.” "Anytime you face the kind of budget shortfall that we faced this session it's going to be very difficult and challenging,” Henry said. "It was painful at times.” The Democratic governor, dealing with a Republican Legislature for the second year, had to juggle keeping budget conversations with vetoing bills, including measures that were priorities with the Republican leadership. So far he has vetoed 16 bills, down from 21 last year, his highest one-year total; he still has a couple weeks to act on legislation. Benge said legislators presented diverse ideas in measures. "You're going to have some of those philosophically separating ideas that are going to be taken up,” he said. "We don't put off other important work to take up those issues.