Statement by Senator Stratton Taylor,
Senate President Pro Tempore
(Oklahoma City) Because Governor Keating has apparently abandoned his pursuit of a controversial state pension overhaul, both his original and revised state budget plans are hopelessly out of balance, according to the leader of the Oklahoma State Senate.
Even though he opposes the Republican-sponsored retirement program, Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor offered to bring the so-called "Enron Plan" to a vote Wednesday in a gesture of good faith to jumpstart budget negotiations. Governor Keating, however, refused the offer, indicating an interim study would be conducted instead.
Because the governor had counted on the program to produce $67 million in revenue, his budget plan cannot work without it.
"It's the linchpin of his program. Without it, the whole executive budget collapses. By refusing a vote on the Senate floor and opting for an interim study, Governor Keating has signaled to me that he's not really serious about pushing this program this year. That sends him back to the drawing board on his budget plan," said Sen. Taylor.
Under Governor Keating's retirement program, the teachers and public employees pension systems would be converted to 401(k) plans and $67 million in retirement funds would be diverted to other government operations to help balance the executive budget.
Earlier this week, the Sen. Taylor offered to hear the pension legislation on the Senate floor, but the governor formally declined the offer Wednesday, first saying that the retirement program needed to be voted on in conjunction with other budget measures and then indicating that his pension proposal would be the subject of an interim study.
Those responses are "baffling," according to Sen. Taylor.
"First, Governor Keating said the retirement program should be lumped together with the rest of the budget legislation, but that would be logrolling something specifically prohibited by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Because of recent court rulings, we're considering each revenue bill separately this year and the retirement measure certainly falls into that category given its budget implications," noted Sen. Taylor.
"His suggestion that it's going to be the subject of an interim study is equally confusing. If he proposed it in his executive budget and is counting on its passage to balance his budget, why is he tying it to a study that won't begin until after session is adjourned? We assumed that all his budget proposals were thoroughly researched, but apparently we were wrong."
Because he isn't willing to accept a Senate vote on his retirement program, Sen. Taylor said Governor Keating will have to revise his executive budget once again.
"As it stands now, the governor's revised budget has a $67 million hole in it. That makes it a worthless document as far as budget negotiations are concerned. Once Governor Keating drafts a new state budget reflecting the demise of his retirement program, we can get the budget negotiations moving again," said Sen. Taylor.
"With the conclusion of the session just a month away, we need to be dealing in realities, not unbalanced budget plans. The longer that Governor Keating stalls this process, the more likely it is that he and his Republican colleagues could cause a government shutdown."