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Budget to Dominate Next Legislative Session (Dec 09, 2010)

Oklahoma’s top elected officials have made their annual appearance before the state’s business leaders. The hole in the state budget was on every mind except one.

Gov.-elect Mary Fallin was the last official to speak at yesterday’s State Chamber Annual Public Affairs forum, but she was the only official whose prepared remarks failed to directly address Oklahoma’s mismatch in the money it takes in and the cash it needs to provide services for its residents.

Predictions on the size of the budget hole vary from $400-650 million.

When asked about the state budget after the event, Fallin told the Associated Press she supports "targeted, thoughtful reductions in spending" as lawmakers deal with the expected shortfall when they return to the Capitol in February.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Schulz put the budget problem in perspective, saying it’s the 650 million pound gorilla state legislators will have to face.

While Shulz will help lead the record number of Republicans in the state Senate, his counterpart on the Democratic side of the aisle will have even less influence than in the last legislative session. State Sen. Andrew Rice says when it comes to the economy, Senate Democrats are as concerned as the Republicans, but Rice says the top priority will be the budget.

He also says finding ways to cut a budget in core areas that have already suffered several cuts will be hard for both parties. But he hopes the legislature can at least find money to come up with a provider fee to help fund healthcare in the state.

The minority leader in the state House, Rep. Scott Inman, says he is looking for a little less embarrassment from the chambers. He wants lawmakers to forego what he calls the “silly season” of bills that will embarrass the state and focus on Oklahoma’s economic recovery.

Incoming House Speaker Chris Steele says lawmakers should be able to both work on filling the hole in the state budget, while also passing laws on other issues, including some supported by social conservatives in the Republican caucus.

Regardless of the final revenue figures lawmakers have to deal with, no one is expecting a quick return to 2008 funding levels anytime soon.

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