Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gov. Henry announces first line-item veto,
Will act on rest of $7 billion budget bill Wednesday

Gov. Brad Henry announced his first line-item veto of budget funding Tuesday, saying he will use his veto pen to strike down $1 million in supplemental funds earmarked for the Legislature’s Legislative Services Bureau. The governor said the appropriation duplicates the work of existing state authorities and contains no accountability measures to ensure it will be spent responsibly.

“For those reasons, this appropriation is not in the best interest of Oklahoma taxpayers,” said Gov. Henry.

While the budget legislation did not stipulate what lawmakers would do with the funds in question, legislative leaders have said they want to hand the money off to a private vendor of their choosing to conduct a study of the financially strapped Department of Corrections.

Gov. Henry said it is critical for the state to conduct regular performance reviews of state agencies such as DOC, but state law assigns that duty to the State Auditor and Inspector, the Oklahoma Legislature and the Office of State Finance. Paying a private consultant an additional $1 million to do the same work assigned to other state authorities would be duplicative and a waste of taxpayer money, according to the governor.

“We must hold agencies accountable for every dollar they spend so we can get the best bang for taxpayers’ bucks,” said Gov. Henry. “That’s why we fund a state auditor, a state finance office and legislative committees and staffs. That’s why we passed a zero-based budgeting law that charges the Legislature with doing an in-house, top-to-bottom financial review of every state agency on a regular basis.

“If they’ve complied with the zero-based budgeting statute and done their regular oversight duties, legislative leaders should already have the information and data they need to determine an appropriate course of action for corrections and any other agency.”

Gov. Henry noted that after he signed Oklahoma’s zero-based budgeting law in 2003, one of the first agencies audited by the Legislature’s zero-based budgeting committee was the Department of Corrections.

In addition to duplicating already existing state programs, Gov. Henry said the line-item appropriations measure is short on details and provides no accountability measures to ensure the $1 million will be spent responsibly.

“Before the state writes a $1 million check to some unknown person or entity, we need details on how the money will be spent and what accountability controls will be in place. Section 140 of the budget bill contains no such safeguards or supporting information,” said the governor.

“And even if someone can make the case that another audit should be done on top of the work that the state auditor and Legislature do, $1 million seems to be an unusually high price tag for a performance audit. This is simply not a wise or efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

Gov. Henry is in the process of reviewing a $7 billion budget bill approved by the Legislature last week. In recent days, the governor and a number of legislators have raised concerns about House Bill 1234 and the process that created it.

While the governor has already said he intends to sign emergency funds for schools and prisons in the bill, he has not announced how he will act on the rest of the legislation. The governor has until midnight Wednesday to approve the bill or use his line-item veto to strike down portions of it.

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