- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Mary Fallin refused to say Wednesday whether she thinks Oklahoma businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay people.

During a presentation to reporters and editors at The Associated Press’ annual legislative forum, Fallin said she has many gay friends, but declined to answer a question about whether she thought it was inappropriate for businesses to discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation.

“In general, I have lots of gay friends that I do talk to and hang out with, and I think we should respect them. They’re good Oklahomans,” Fallin said.

Bills that would allow such discrimination are among more than a dozen anti-gay measures that have been introduced in the Legislature this year. The session begins Monday, when Fallin is to deliver her State of the State address and present her executive budget proposal to the House and Senate.

With a projected $300 million less to spend on next year’s budget - a hole that is expected to grow larger because of falling oil prices - Fallin said she believes the Legislature should focus more on bills that deal with the budget and revenue. She said she wants lawmakers to closely examine tax credits and other policies that affect revenue collections.



“The fact is that our current budgeting process is malfunctioning,” Fallin said. “And if we’re going to continue to grow our tax receipts but continue to have budget shortfalls when we have a strong economy and low unemployment, it just makes no sense.”

Despite an increase in the overall amount of money coming in, the percentage available to spend has decreased because more funds are being diverted for things like tax credits or directly to pay for projects like roads and bridges.

Fallin also is pushing the Legislature to consider focusing exclusively on the budget every other year instead fitting it in alongside the thousands of policy measures introduced every year.

She reiterated that her priorities for the upcoming legislative session will be education, health care and public safety, and for the first time publicly endorsed a statewide prohibition on texting while driving.

Other leaders who spoke to reporters on Wednesday were Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa; House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City; and new Senate Minority Leader Randy Bass, D-Lawton.

Inman said his caucus stands ready to find mutual ground with Fallin in her priorities. “We’re with the governor on the big issue, but the devil’s in the details,” Inman said.

Inman also criticized the governor for saying health care would be a priority when she has consistently refused to expand Medicaid as authorized under the Affordable Care Act that would provide health coverage to an estimated 140,000 previously uninsured Oklahoma residents.

Inman also said the 29 members of the Democratic caucus in the House will support a $40 million bond issue to complete the unfinished Native American Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.

In the Senate, which has previously approved several different proposals to fund the museum, Bingman said there is still support for the project, but also a concern about other state buildings, including the medical examiner’s office and state Capitol.

“There are other needs out there. What is our greatest priority?” Bingman said. “I think all that needs to be considered before I would say I’m going to put $40 million into the (museum).”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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