A Democratic senator says hurt feelings may not have been the main reason Senate Democratic leaders threw their chips in with Republicans on striking a budget deal without the governor’s input, but admits that’s the perception.
Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, has denied he signed onto the budget deal that Gov. Brad Henry since has vetoed because the governor last year showed a budget compromise to Senate Democrats only after House Republican leaders agreed to it.
Morgan, without input from the Democratic governor or House Democrats, worked out a deal with House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, and Senate co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. He said earlier it “came together much more quickly than any of us anticipated” and was not retaliation for Henry’s actions a year ago.
Sen. Charlie Laster, a Democrat from Henry’s hometown of Shawnee, said some in the upper chamber may feel otherwise.
Laster a couple weeks ago told a group in Tecumseh that Senate Democrats don’t feel sorry for the governor being left out of budget talks. Senate Democrats felt left out of the process last year after Henry came up with a compromise proposal that he first allowed then-House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, to view, Laster said.
“Perception is reality, often, and the perception was that he went behind the Senate Democrats’ back and made a deal with Todd Hiett,” Laster told The Oklahoman. “Everyone in the state of Oklahoma got to listen to Mr. Hiett trumpet the Henry-Hiett budget proposal all during his (unsuccessful lieutenant governor) campaign and so the perception is fairly entrenched that that’s what happened.”
Laster, who was not part of the earlier budget talks, said he doesn’t think the proposal came about as a result of any ill feeling from last year. Instead, the budget deal “fell together very quickly,” he said.
Laster who along with the other 23 Democrats in the Senate voted for the budget proposal, said he is a strong supporter of Henry.
“He’s a great governor and a great friend to me,” Laster said. “He’s still my No. 1 guy.”
Henry and Morgan had no comment on Laster’s remarks, spokesmen for both men said. Morgan is not answering any questions about the budget, his spokesman said.
Henry said he vetoed the budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins July 1, because it was prepared in a “flawed process” by excluding his office and House Democrats.
Henry said he didn’t think education and state prisons were adequately funded and he was concerned no money was included to shore up the underfinanced state teacher retirement system.
In vetoing the budget proposal, Henry called for new money talks to begin as soon as possible.
Morgan, Cargill and Coffee responded this week to Henry’s veto by asking him in a letter to come up with a “comprehensive, detailed alternative” before any talks on a new proposal can begin.
Henry sent a letter back stating his priorities have not changed since he submitted his executive budget at the start of this year’s session and repeated his call for budget talks.
Lawmakers are not in session today or Friday. No movement on the budget stalemate is expected until next week at the earliest.