Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gov. Henry to Oklahoma Legislature: It's Not Time to Tap Rainy Day Fund

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gov. Henry to Oklahoma Legislature: It's Not Time to Tap Rainy Day Fund

Article excerpt

Gov. Brad Henry doesn't want to relive 2003 ever again. And he doesn't want the next governor of Oklahoma to have to experience anything like 2003, either.

"I remember very well how painful it was when I came into office," Henry said Monday.

Elected in November 2002, Henry's first task after being sworn into office was to tackle a $700 million budget shortfall - the largest in state history - and an almost-empty Rainy Day Fund.

"That was more than twice the shortfall we see today," said Henry, shortly after voting as a member of the State Board of Equalization on the budget estimate for next year. Lawmakers are expected to have $5.45 billion to spend for the fiscal year that ends in June 2010, $309.6 million less than was available to spend for the current fiscal year. "The news is not great, but there is no need to panic," Henry said.

Oklahoma state government recovered from the hard times of 2003 without relying on Rainy Day funds and without raising taxes, yet still managed to protect the interests of education and other critical government services, Henry said. This time, he said, Oklahoma should be able to withstand a tight budget year without resorting to drastic measures - and without tapping the Rainy Day Fund.

"I don't want to face that situation again," said Henry. "And I don't want the next governor to have to face that situation. We don't know what the future holds. It makes the most sense to not tap the Rainy Day Fund. I will resist that effort. But never say never. It could happen, but I don't plan to do that."

A short presentation by Michael Clingman, the new finance director, showed that Oklahoma is holding up better than most other states during the economic downturn, and general revenue fund collections are coming in at more than 102 percent of the estimate, totaling $5.98 billion. Oklahoma's per capita income is the closest it has been to the U.S. average since the oil bust of the 1980s.

Nationally, financial experts expect things to get worse before they get better, but Henry said the long-term estimates show improvement during the next fiscal year. …

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