Discussions of calling a special legislative session between the governor and legislative leaders are “a move in the right direction” a state Senator who has been pushing for the call said Wednesday, but to delay an emergency session until January may produce “too little, too late” for senior citizens suffering the brunt of Oklahoma’s financial collapse.
Despite comments by the Governor, Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House that a special session may be called by January, Sen. Kenneth Corn said he will continue his petition drive that would give the Legislature the ability to call itself into session immediately.
The Poteau Democrat said it is “unacceptable to wait another 30 to 45 days” to restore $7.4 million in cuts to the state’s senior nutrition programs. Those programs provide meals daily to the elderly at scores of sites across the state.”
“Our senior citizens need to eat now, not a month from now,” Corn said. “The minute a special session is called, the Legislature could restore the nutrition cuts quickly. I haven’t talked to a single legislator, Democrat or Republican, who opposes that idea. We need to meet immediately to restore the nutrition cuts—then we need to continue to work on other budget reductions that will be needed because of the economic descent we’re in.”
Corn said it was critical to begin by providing legislators details of cuts that have already been made.
“Very few lawmakers know everything that already has been cut. After everyone is updated, we need to get every legislator involved in solving our budget crisis,” Corn said. “Solving this solution will take us some time, and if we need to adjust numbers as we go along we can do that. The budget committees do that all the time.”
Corn has been calling for a special session for weeks. He launched his petition drive after the state Department of Human Services slashed the senior nutrition program budget because of revenue shortfalls.
The cuts mean nearly 800,000 hot meals normally provided for the state’s poorest senior citizens will be eliminated. The meals, served primarily to seniors well above the age of 60, in many cases are the only hot meals those elderly Oklahomans get each day.
As a result of the cuts, by the end of last week at least 51 senior nutrition sites had closed down and services were drastically reduced at 168 others, according to state reports.
Corn said the revenue crisis now also is devastating school budgets and that the state is facing “a potential catastrophe unheard of in modern history” when it comes to education budget cuts. “No one knows for certain what the final numbers will be, but we already know it will be a significant loss,” Corn said.
Tulsa Public Schools recently reported a shortfall of more than $1 million and Oklahoma City Public Schools may be more than $3 million short. Corn said he expects more shortfalls to be announced in the coming days.
Corn has collected 48 signatures from legislators wanting an immediate special session. Two-thirds of the membership of the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives are needed. Gathering the signatures has been difficult because lawmakers are not currently in session.
“We have mailed the petition to all 149 members of the Legislature and emailed them. I’ve talked to some Senate and House members who have pledged to sign the petition but haven’t sent it back yet. We are getting new signatures every day. It’s just going to take some time to get those names in hand,” Corn said.