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Oklahoma House, Senate leaders warn new Legislature of tough budget year ahead

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma faces a tough budget year ahead that will include cuts to public services, the state's newly elected Republican legislative leaders warned their colleagues on Tuesday after they were formally elected to their posts.

Both the House and Senate convened at noon for a constitutionally mandated organizational day, certified the members as elected and picked their leaders.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, was elected to a third term as leader in the Senate, while House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman, R-Fairview, begins his first full two-year term as leader of the 101-member House. The Legislature adjourned until Feb. 2, when it will reconvene at noon for Gov. Mary Fallin's State of the State address.

Both Hickman and Bingman warned of a lean budget year ahead that could worsen if oil prices remain depressed. Although final revenue estimates haven't been certified, state finance officials are projecting a budget hole of close to $300 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"This will be a year that requires sacrifices from those who utilize the services that state government was initially intended to provide, sacrifices from our state employees who provide those services, and sacrifices as we determine what programs are beyond their mission and must be ended because they are luxuries we can no longer afford at the cost of essential services," Hickman said. "Things like education, public safety and access to affordable health care in every corner of our state."

PHOTO: Oklahoma state Rep. Lee Denney, center, R-Cushing, is applauded after being elected as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma House,Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma state Rep. Lee Denney, center, R-Cushing, is applauded after being elected as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma House,Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Bingman, who now leads 40 Republicans in the 48-member Senate, told his colleagues they would have to make difficult choices when it comes to funding state government.

"However, those challenges will give us an opportunity to prove our commitment to the fiscally responsible management of taxpayer dollars," Bingman said.

The House elected Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, as speaker pro tempore, making her just the second woman ever to hold the House's No. 2 spot.

Sen. Mike Schulz will serve another term as Senate majority leader.

The Senate also adopted new rules that will make it easier for members to introduce bills after certain deadlines, among other things.


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