The Associated Press May 13, 2011, 8:24AM ET

Oklahoma lawmakers give initial OK to state budget

Oklahoma lawmakers gave initial approval on Thursday to a $6.5 billion state budget for the upcoming fiscal year as the Legislature tries to wrap up its work a week early.

Lawmakers also are scrambling to finish redrawing the state's House and Senate districts and pass several of Republican Gov. Mary Fallin's initiatives. Those include an overhaul of the state's workers' compensation system, the consolidation of several state agencies and information technology divisions, and the creation of a closing fund the governor could use to help lure new businesses to Oklahoma.

The Legislature is required to adjourn by the last Friday in May, but legislative leaders said this week that they would try to wrap by May 20. The move is expected to save the state about $100,000.

On Thursday, House and Senate committees approved a general appropriations bill to fund state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The measure is expected to be considered Friday on the House floor. It includes cuts to agency budgets ranging mostly from less than 1 percent to about 9 percent.

Besides cuts to state agencies, lawmakers plugged a $500 million hole in the budget by using about $120 million in cash flow reserves, money from a $70 million transportation bond issue and revenue from state agency revolving funds, among other things.

"To be able to make this budget work as well as we did, we had to look at some of those revolving funds and allow the agencies to tap into the various funds that they have," said Senate Appropriations Chairman David Myers, R-Ponca City.

The House and Senate also are putting the finishing touches on plans to redraw the state's 101 House and 48 Senate districts based on the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. House leaders agreed on a plan last week that was praised by members of both parties and easily passed the House on Thursday, but the Senate proposal has been more contentious. Democrats complained about the Senate hiring a GOP consultant to help redraw Senate lines, resulting in a plan that forced two incumbent Democrats into districts with two incumbent Republicans.

"They want to silence the Democratic voice," said Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, who said he intends to run against incumbent Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. "My strongly performing Democratic neighborhoods have been split across three Republican-leaning districts."

In western Oklahoma, the district of Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, was moved east to include the residence of Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher. But Johnson said Thursday that he plans to move into his new district and that he and Ivester will not run against each other.

The chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, Sen. Clark Jolley, said the final boundaries are the result of a bipartisan effort and protect districts with large minority populations.

"We had to make sure each district has approximately the same number of people and that we preserved districts where a majority of citizens are minorities," said Jolley, R-Edmond. "Oklahoma's population grew by some 300,000 people over the past ten years, but there's also been a major shift from rural areas to metropolitan suburbs."

The Senate redistricting plan was approved Thursday in a House committee, and Jolley said he expects it will be heard Friday in the full Senate.


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