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Okla. Senate gives final OK to $7.1B budget bill

Sean Murphy, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma Senate gave final legislative approval on Tuesday to a $7.1 billion general appropriations bill to fund state government for the upcoming fiscal year, overcoming the objections of Democrats and some Republicans who say the plan's priorities are misguided.

The Senate voted 28-20 for the bill, which reflects an agreement between the governor and Republican legislative leaders. Eight Republicans joined the Senate's 12 Democrats in opposing the bill, which required 25 votes for passage. It now heads to the Gov. Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign it.

The bill increases spending by nearly $270 million over the current year's budget, with funding growth focused mostly on education, health care and human services.

"This is a responsible and fiscally conservative budget, with increases targeted to core government services — education, infrastructure and human services," Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said in a statement.

Much of the opposition in the Senate centered on a $30 million appropriation to a fund designed to pay for improvements to state-owned buildings that was a priority of House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. The money will be overseen by a commission that will develop a prioritized list of state properties in need of repair and state assets that could be liquidated to help pay for projects.

"We, as a body, can't say how we're going to spend $30 million," said Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore. "I think this budget demonstrates bad business and misguided priorities."

Several Republican members voiced concern that the money could be used to help finish construction of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. The total costs of the museum, located along the Oklahoma River at the intersection of interstates 35 and 40, already have been estimated at $171 million.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Clark Jolley, who answered questions about the bill on the floor, acknowledged that some of the $30 million could be used on the project because it was a state-owned entity. But he described that possibility as a "phantom menace" because of legislative opposition to spending additional money on the project.

"I would be shocked if one dime of it was used on the Native American Cultural Center," said Jolley, R-Edmond.

Jolley said he would be "equally shocked" if money from the fund was used to pay for a planned museum of popular culture in Tulsa.

Other members complained about a $5 million appropriation that will be used to renovate legislative offices and build larger committee rooms.

"Was there anyone in this building that asked to have their offices remodeled?" asked Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland. "I found out a few weeks ago from my executive assistant that my office is going to be remodeled with money from this budget. I would like to see those dollars spent on children in this gallery that need an education in this state."

Jolley acknowledged that while the budget was far from perfect, he said he thought it adequately reflected the priorities of the Legislature with most of the additional revenue allocated for education and health care.

"There are things in this budget I don't like," Jolley said. "We could come up with 48 ways to write this budget. Then you have 101 representatives who could probably come up with 205 ways to write the budget."


Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy