Oklahoma City_Governor Henry's State of the State address is the superbowl of Oklahoma politics. Top on Henry's agenda included creating more jobs, improving roads and bridges, increasing salaries of state employees, and major focus on education. But, all of these issues come down to funding - a $7.1 Billion budget.
Over the next few months, lawmakers will decide where Oklahoman's tax dollars will be spent. Governor Brad Henry gave the details of his proposed budget in his annual State of the State speech given to a joint session of the House and Senate.
Henry is urging lawmakers to move forward now that the Centennial has passed. He says it's time to make decisions regarding Oklahoma's future. He was greeted by a full house for his sixth annual State of the State address. He says 2007 will be a hard act to follow. "2007 tells the story of Oklahoma," said Henry. "The Centennial is over, but the story of Oklahoma continues - a story that is bold and reinvigorated a new beginning for a state constantly evolving."
Henry's proposed evolutionary focuses on education. He recently proposed a raise of teacher salaries by $1,200 per year, bringing their pay to the regional average. Other educational issues included extending the school year by five days, and increasing physical education from one hour per week to two.
Henry says Oklahoma must continue to push forward technologically in employment. "Fund the research that will create high-tech, good-paying jobs for a diversified, dynamic Oklahoma."
He proposed guaranteed funding to provide for Oklahoma's transportation infrastructure. "[The state's] Commitment to provide $2 Billion dollars over ten years for roads and bridges, so we can literally pave the way for a prosperous Oklahoma," he said.
A recent audit showed Oklahoma prisons in dire condition. "I again call on the legislature to adequately fund the Department of Corrections so this agency can truly perform its central mission - keeping Oklahomans safe."
Henry's last item of business was a five percent pay raise for state employees, which drew the most reaction from the crowd.
Although Representative Don Armes of Faxon agrees with Henry, he is interested to see a budget break down. "That's a lot of money, but it spreads awfully thin when you look at the needs of the whole state," says Armes. Representative Joe Dorman of Rush Springs agrees with the school year extension. "We're going to have to be creative about that policy if we look at something, adding on any additional days," he said.
Governor Henry's State of the State address wasn't the only item of business a the capitol on Monday. The legislature also elected a new Speaker of the House, Republican Chris Benge of Tulsa.
Benge's selection comes after former speaker Lance Cargill stepped down from his position amid controversy. The former Speaker, along with five other members of the legislature, didn't pay his taxes. Governor Henry addressed this hot button issue in his speech. "We must set aside partisan bickering and reactionary politics," said Henry. "The people of Oklahoma have nothing to gain from petty quarrels, and our time is too precious to waste in gridlock."
In a report from the Associated Press Representative wrote a letter to his GOP collegues "Don Armes of Faxon is blaming negative publicity surrounding legislators' tax problems on 'the liberal media'. In the letter, Armes calls the media the enemy that is bent on tearing the Republicans down.
"The Oklahoman reported last month that Armes was one of five legislators who got warnings from the tax commission for failing to file state income tax returns. Armes acknowledged in the letter he should have done a better job of tending to his personal business."