Despite veto threats from Governor Keating, a Senate budget leader insists that education will continue to be the Legislature's top funding priority this year.
"I'm very disappointed that Governor Keating has chosen to enter budget negotiations with a hostile attitude toward public education," said Senator Kelly Haney, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Every time he threatens to veto an education budget bill, he sends the signal nationwide that Oklahoma isn't interested in building a business-friendly environment to promote economic development.
"The Governor acts as if our public schools are some frivolous expense that should take a back seat in the budget debate, but we believe education is too important to accept second class status and won't allow that to happen."
The legislative program invests the lion's share of funding in education, some $203 million additional dollars. Less than 24 hours after legislative budget writers finished their work this week, Governor Keating and his top lieutenants declared the document "dead on arrival" and said they were stocking up on "veto ink." A press release to that effect was issued Wednesday on the eve of the first budget negotiations between legislative and executive branch leaders.
"Statements like that lead me to believe Governor Keating is more interested in pursuing the irresponsible, gridlock politics he learned in Washington, DC, than he is in advancing the fortunes of our state," said Senator Haney. "I hope that's not true."
In questioning the size of the education budget, Keating lieutenant Tom Daxon predicted it could lead to a "tax increase," even though under State Question 640, the Legislature doesn't have the authority to raise revenues without a vote of the people.
"Dragging the tax bogeyman out of the closet is just another attempt to mislead and needlessly scare Oklahomans. The fact of the matter is we're investing growth revenue produced by an expanding state economy, the same economy that Governor Keating enjoys bad-mouthing so much," said Senator Haney.
"You can boil the budget disagreement down to pretty simple terms. Right now, there's a line drawn in the sand. We're on the side of education, the Governor is on the side of the status quo.
"If we're going to improve Oklahoma, we can't accept the do-nothing attitude of the status quo crowd, especially in regard to our public schools. We have to invest in education and move our economic development efforts forward."
Senator Haney says budget negotiations will be conducted in good faith, but budget statements to the media will draw a response.
"I think it's very important that we conduct good faith negotiations, but when Governor Keating or one of his lieutenants launches a media assault, we'll be ready to set the record straight.
"No matter how large of a smoke screen his propaganda machine creates, Governor Keating can't disguise the fact that the single biggest difference between his budget and the Legislature's is education. We're for a significant investment in education; he's against it."