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Legislators angry, confused

Gov. Mary Fallin's veto of a compromise state budget bill has left legislators angry about the loss, confused about what exactly it means and wondering when they will return to a special session to finish this year's budget.

And some legislators say it's possible that special session may end up running concurrently with the regular session that will begin Feb. 5.

Fallin created the controversy when, as she promised, she vetoed almost all the provisions in the compromise budget bill that legislators had completed Nov. 17 with the final vote of the Oklahoma Senate. Almost before the ink dried, Fallin announced she had vetoed all but five of the 170 sections of the bill, leaving only funding intact for health and human services. The House bill had come at the end of a special eight-week session called by Fallin after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a cigarette tax unconstitutional, which left a $214 million hole in the 2017-2018 budget.

Fallin had said she would veto House Bill 1019X if it contained cuts of $90 million or more to state agencies and used excessive amounts of the state's cash reserve, things many legislators said were distasteful but necessary to balance a severe budget shortfall.

Rep. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, said he voted against that final "cuts and cash" bill  after voting yes on two other budget proposals  the bill that Fallin used her line-item veto power on to dismantle.

"There was a lot to hate about that (bill)," he said. "Quite frankly, it left us in a worse condition. We were in a bad condition to begin with, with the fiscal 2018 budget. That was my concern."

Montgomery said the "cuts and cash" bill was approved without the Legislature doing fundamental reform, which left the state in bad shape going into the new budget in the next session. He said the budget bill had problems and there are other options the Legislature should explore, such as ensuring efficiency and updating computer systems, to help the state realize savings.

"We just weren't going to be in a good enough position to do other things," he said, adding he also opposed cuts to higher education and career technology.

But he said the effects of the governor's veto haven't been fully explored.

"Quite frankly, there is a lot that still needs to be processed with the way she did it," he said. "We're still trying to work through it."

For example, Montgomery said he has been told there was more cash taken from the county road and bridges fund than was authorized, leaving him concerned about exactly what the budget shortfall is.

"I think she made a bad bill worse," he said. "Honestly, we're still trying to work through the details of what's in it and the impact."

Fallin's veto message said she would call the Legislature into a second special session, and Montgomery said it seems probable that will happen, noting he has heard everything from the first week of December to the first week of January. Like others, he said it is plausible that special session may overlap February's regular session. But before then, legislators must determine the extent of the budget problems.

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