Gov. Kevin Stitt and GOP legislative leaders kicked off last week with a big win.
In a May 15 press conference, Stitt, House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat announced an agreement on a $785 million education funding deal that includes teacher pay raises and additional money for rural and economically disadvantaged districts. The deal also clears the way for the state to give tax credits to families who homeschool or send their children to a private school.
But aside from the unusual rejection of a House bill that proposed giving the Department of Public Safety more investigative power, the remainder of the week was relatively quiet. While lawmakers advanced some appropriations bills, including measures tied to the education package, there was little progress on bills sent to conference committees. Treat told reporters last Thursday he anticipates more policy proposals will be considered this week.
Another priority for lawmakers this week is to unveil and advance a state budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2024 to the governor’s desk, the one task they are constitutionally required to do each session. Both chambers bought themselves some time by calling a concurrent special session, which will allow them to return to the Capitol sometime in June to override potential gubernatorial vetoes. But legislative leaders have indicated they intend to get a state budget deal done in the regular session, which must end by 5 p.m. on Friday, May 26.
There are lingering questions about what the Legislature will and won’t fund in a year flush with cash. The state entered 2023 with about $1.2 billion in surplus to disburse. More than half of that has been allocated to education. Stitt and McCall have shown support for cutting personal tax cuts and eliminating the state portion of the grocery sales tax, but both of the proposals appear to be a non-starter in the Senate.
“We have to make sure the budget is not balanced not just this year but long term, so we’re not entertaining those tax cuts right now,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Stitt said he hasn’t given up hope that the Legislature will come to terms on tax cuts.
“I would never put Oklahoma in a harmful situation and cut revenue above recurring expenses, but you also cannot just grow government unchecked,” Stitt said. “When we have a budget surplus and we have the largest savings account in state history, it is very reasonable to give some of that back to the taxpayer.”
In what has become a May tradition in Oklahoma, the state budget again is poised to be released and finalized with little time for public examination or feedback. While Democrats have called for changes to how the budget is crafted and released, Republican leadership has yet to be receptive, saying there are numerous opportunities for minority party lawmakers and the public to weigh in.
Have thoughts on what you want like to see included in the state budget or bills you’d like to see cross the finish line this week? Let me know at kross@Oklahomawatch.org.
With Republicans holding a supermajority in both chambers, it’s rare for a bill that appears before the full House or Senate to fail.
That sort of unusual rejection happened on May 16 when House members shot down House Bill 1976 on a 30-63 vote. The measure proposes giving the Department of Public Safety power to investigate individuals perceived to be a threat to public safety. While sponsor Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, requested that the measure be eligible for reconsideration this session, the bill did not appear on the House floor again before a May 19 deadline.
For about 45 minutes, several Democratic House members made the case that the governor oversees the DPS, and the bill could give the executive branch unchecked power to investigate political opponents. Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, called it “the worst bill I’ve ever read” in his debate against the measure.
What I’m Reading This Week
- How Oklahoma Democrats Convinced Republicans to Reject Expansion of State Police Power: A bill that previously had enough support to reach the final stage of voting was shot down after minority party Democrats spoke out against it. A legislative oddity, especially in Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]
- Ethics Commission Settles Conservative Alliance PAC Lawsuit, Kannady Mum: The Conservative Alliance PAC and its treasurer, Chris Marston, admitted it targeted specific Oklahoma candidates and failed to follow the disclosure requirements in Oklahoma law. Rep. Chris Kannady, who now serves as the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Judiciary –Civil, acknowledged to reporters in 2018 that he helped launch the attack on his own colleagues. [NonDoc]
- Broken Arrow Graduate Sues School for Barring Tribal Regalia, Says District Staffers Ruined Eagle Feather: Lena’ Black’s lawsuit against Broken Arrow Public Schools comes just days after Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed a popular legislative measure that would have guaranteed Indigenous students the right to wear tribal regalia at school graduation ceremonies. [CNHI Oklahoma]
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