House Republicans worry veto may have accidentally repealed all agency budgets

The Oklahoma Capitol, in the early morning, on the last day of the regular legislative session on May 26, 2017 (Phil Cross KOKH)

A missing word is raising the possibility that no state agency in Oklahoma has a legal budget following the governor’s line-item veto of the revenue measure passed during the first special session. The revelation that the governor failed to line-item veto Section 170 of House Bill 1019X was made during the final moments of the first meeting of the House Special Investigative Committee.

Committee Chair, Representative Josh Cockroft (R-Wanette), asked Governor Mary Fallin’s chief of staff about the veto of the special session budget bill. Chris Benge, himself a former Speaker of the House, said that he did not see the word “veto” beside the section, putting it at odds with the governor’s official veto message.

“If you look through the entire document,” Cockroft told FOX 25, “The sections that she wanted to approve, the five sections that were included in the veto message, have ‘approve’ written beside them and everything else has a ‘veto’ and it is struck through. Section 170 has nothing therefore our question is did she veto the entire general appropriations bill.”

So why is that important?

Section 170 repeals the entire general appropriations bill and all the sections before it. This was needed to override the general appropriations bill that was passed during the 2017 regular session. House members say by not writing “veto” next to that section, it could mean the entire budget was canceled out when the governor signed HB 1019X.

“There is no conflict,” Michael McNutt, the governor’s communications director told FOX 25 in an email. “The veto message clearly says that Section 170 was vetoed. The bill does not say otherwise. And the effect of her action was an amended General Appropriations bill so we do have a legitimate budget.”

“I think there's tremendous concern,” Representative Cockroft said of the differences between the veto message and the actual veto. House Republicans say they will continue to investigate the legality of the veto as it applies the every agency budget and the upcoming second special session.

It could expand the work of the committee which began with testimony of three senior members of the governor’s inner-circle as they relate to the financial crisis at the State Health Department.

“One of the things we began today was asking some of the tough questions that the citizens of the state are asking about,” Cockroft said of the committee’s work. “Not only the Department of Health, but we're going to continue to ask questions about every state agency and we want to make sure that every dollar is being spent wisely.”

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