Henry says he'd consider January special session

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 11:28 AM

Gov. Brad Henry said a special session of the Legislature could be held in January because of continued uncertainty in Oklahoma's economic forecasts.

Lawmakers wouldn't normally convene until February, but some have been calling recently for a special session.

Henry said Tuesday that he won't discuss a special session with leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature until after the state Board of Equalization releases revenue estimates on Dec. 21 and legislative budget committees hold public hearings on possible reductions.

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said discussions have been going on with Henry and legislative leaders for weeks.

Republican leaders "have always said all options are on the table, including special session," Benge said.

Henry and legislative leaders discussed a special session in August, but said then that more information on revenue was needed before they could decide how to proceed.

Henry said Tuesday experts will need to "conduct a new review of the current economic conditions, crunch the latest revenue numbers and develop an updated, more accurate revenue forecast as quickly as possible."

That information will give state leaders a better foundation for their budget decisions, he said.

"Depending on the information we receive, it might make good sense to hold a January special session focusing exclusively on the current fiscal year challenges," Henry said. "We can get a jump on budget work for next fiscal year and hold down the costs of an emergency meeting because many lawmakers will already be at the Capitol in January preparing for the February regular session."

State revenues came in below expectations for the 10th straight month in October. State financial officials have already ordered 5 percent cuts in state agencies' budgets through the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Those cuts followed a 7 percent cut at most agencies in May, when the Legislature approved the budget for the 2010 fiscal year.

Henry has said it's likely the state will need to tap its Rainy Day Fund, which has about $600 million, to make it through the rest of the fiscal year.

"I understand there is much anxiety about our budget situation, but we are striving to find a balance between how much should be cut and how much from the Rainy Day fund should be deployed to ensure we balance our budget this year, while also setting our state up to withstand the possibility of ongoing declining revenues into the future," Benge said.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said the Senate's appropriations subcommittees already have started reviewing agency budgets. He said information from the hearings will be available in time to discuss the possibility of a January special session.

The state's shortfall could be as much as $1 billion, and there's "a high probability" agency budgets will be cut more even if the Rainy Day Fund is used, Coffee said.

Lawmakers "have a moral obligation to address this situation now," he said. "We can't kick the can down the road to the next governor and Legislature."

Democratic leaders in the legislature said they support Henry's plan for a possible special session.

"I believe as he does that this is a very serious situation that requires our immediate attention _ we cannot simply while away the hours until session starts," said House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan of Prague.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Laster, D-Shawnee, said lawmakers ought to be "leaving our political differences at the door as we proceed with any decision to come back for a special session. The governor has done that, and it is my hope Republican leaders will follow suit."