(Oklahoma City) Governor Brad Henry turned his back on rural Oklahoma late Wednesday by vetoing a section of the Department of Commerce appropriation bill that directed $3.1 million to sub-state planning districts to fund local projects.
“These funds would have been used for grants for rural fire departments, community water and sewer system expansion and rehabilitation, hot lunch programs for senior citizens and other projects that benefit the taxpayers of Oklahoma,” said Rabon, Assistant Senate Majority Leader and chairman of the Appropriations Sub-Committee for Natural Resources and Regulatory Services. “Some people like to criticize these projects as so-called ‘pork-barrel’ spending, but in rural Oklahoma the people see this funding as a way for them to get a few of their tax dollars back.”
Governor Henry, Rabon said, spent 10 years in the Senate and “was more than happy to accept funding for local projects in his district back then.”
“It’s extremely hypocritical for him to veto this funding now. I notice he didn’t use his line item veto power to reject the $200,000 increase in the Department of Central Services budget that will be used to hire a chef for the Governor’s Mansion,” Rabon said.
Henry’s veto was only of Section 24 of Senate Bill 149, meaning that the Commerce Department gets to keep and spend the $3.1 million but without directing it to the sub-state planning districts.
“The most hypocritical thing about this veto is that it doesn’t save any money. His political appointee gets to keep that $3.1 million as part of her budget. All he accomplished was to make sure that money won’t be spent to help local communities,” Rabon said. “The Governor’s veto message said that Section 24 ‘lacks specificity.’ There certainly isn’t any specificity for how that money can be spent now.”
Rabon also criticized the Governor for waiting until after hours Wednesday to veto the measures and then flying off to Europe while his staff delayed informing lawmakers of his decisions until mid-day Thursday.
The Senator suggested the Governor of employing these tactics to avoid having to answer questions – not just from lawmakers and the press, but from the Oklahomans whose fire protection districts and senior nutrition programs will suffer because of his vetoes.
“While he’s jet-setting halfway around the world, economically disadvantaged Oklahoma communities are left to wonder why their governor would turn his back on them. I think lawmakers are going to have a hard time defending the governor on this one. I know in my district in Southeastern Oklahoma – where voters strongly supported Henry in his gubernatorial campaign – this decision is going to be impossible to defend,” Rabon said.
The Senator also questioned Henry’s veto of Section 2 of House Bill 1122, which appropriated $2.4 million to the Department of Tourism to fix previously identified waste water system problems at state parks.
“Three years ago, we had some state parks that had to shut down campgrounds, cabins and swimming areas because of these problems. We had appropriated REAP funds to fix many of these problems, but, in his veto message, the Governor said we should have spent that money for a water study. We don’t need another study, we know what needs fixing and it’s not going to get fixed thanks to the Governor,” Rabon said.
Rabon pointed out that another section of Senate Bill 149 directs $1 million of REAP funds to the Department of Commerce for operations.
“The governor insisted that we provide that extra money for Commerce. If any REAP money was being misused, it’s that $1 million and not the money appropriated to fix the sewer problems at the state parks,” Rabon said.