State Government Henry Sets Sights on Lottery, Budget Fix

Article excerpt

State Sen. Brad Henry, who will be Oklahoma's 26th governor, on Wednesday said a lottery proposal would be one of his first agenda items.

The Shawnee Democrat also pledged to work with Gov. Frank Keating in a bipartisan solution to state budget woes.

Henry won a tight plurality victory over former 1st District U.S. Rep. Steve Largent, the Republican nominee, when returns were finally but unofficially tallied Wednesday morning.

In a three-person race, Henry drew 448,133 votes to Largent's 441,776, both receiving about 43 percent of the total vote. Independent candidate Gary Richardson pulled in 146,206 or 14 percent.

Henry and Keating emerged from meeting on Wednesday with their respective staffs pledging to ensure a smooth transition.

Part of their deliberations centered on whether to call lawmakers back into special session to address a budget shortfall at the Department of Corrections that has prompted the agency to schedule 23 days of furlough for all corrections workers. Originally scheduled to begin this month, the furloughs were postponed until Dec. 1 while state leaders ponder calling a special session.

Only $35 million resides in the state's constitutional reserve fund, not enough to make up what officials anticipate to be a $213.4 million gap in this year's budget. To address the shortfall, agency budgets were cut 2.85 percent in September and will be reduced 6.02 percent each month for the remainder of the fiscal year.

State employees want a special session to use about $8 million in constitutional reserve funding to forestall the corrections furloughs.

However, Keating said that other funding could be used for this purpose.

"We've talked about that and will continue to discuss it," Keating said of the possibility of a special session.

The outgoing governor said that office space will be provided for Henry's transition team. Some transition funding is also traditionally made available.

"I didn't vote for you, but I like you," Keating, a Republican, quipped to Henry, with whose father Keating served in the Legislature.

Henry returned the compliment.

"I probably didn't vote for you either, but I like you and respect you," Henry told the governor.

From now until the changing of the guard in January, Keating said that he would discuss issues with Henry, but reminded the audience that he is still governor until then.

"I'll make the decisions until such time as I leave," said Keating.

Henry concurred.

"The governor is the governor and he is in charge," said Henry.

He praised what he termed Keating's genuine concern "for leaving the house in good order" and for helping to ensure a smooth transition.

Henry said that he and Keating discussed taking a bipartisan approach to recommending a solution to the state's budget woes. …