By Rep. Mike Sanders
Governor J. Kevin Stitt gave his first State of the State address this week before a joint session of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Senate.
Gov. Stitt has repeatedly said he wants to see Oklahoma become a top ten state in the nation in many factors, including economic, job and business growth, as well as in areas such as government reform, education and health care.
He also outlined some of his budget priorities for the coming fiscal year.
Gov. Stitt said that Oklahomans are presented with revenue growth of potentially $600 million for the coming fiscal year, a 3.6 percent unemployment rate, rising wages and a spirit of optimism. He attributed this to Oklahomans who are working hard, opening businesses and creating jobs. He rightly pointed out that the government does not create wealth. Only individuals in the private sector create wealth. The government merely manages wealth for such services that are provided for in the state and federal constitutions.
I’m heartened to hear the governor say that every policy decision in his administration will promote a healthy economy. The governor suggests the first step in this process will be to return some of the power over the hiring and firing of state agency heads to the executive. He also would like to restructure some boards and consolidate where there is duplication. These are great suggestions. The Legislature should, of course, still have appointment authority to agency boards as a way to maintain oversight of taxpayer dollars and as a way to ensure programs make sense for state citizens. We’d also like to see these boards become more than just advisory and have actual authority. I am in complete favor of looking for duplication and sun-setting those that are no longer needed.
The governor also wants to make the government more transparent, offering incentives to agencies to come into the digital age with their outdated IT structures and financial reporting. He wants all government revenue and spending detailed and available in a format that is readable by the public – all laudable goals.
The governor is supporting more education funding for the coming year. He is asking the Legislature to approve a $1,200 pay raise for all state teachers to go with the pay raise already enacted last year. This would take the state’s teachers to the highest pay in the region. House Republicans also are interested in getting more money into our public school classrooms. We want to make sure the money is coupled with better student outcomes, particularly in reading and math.
I was pleased the governor addressed health care, particularly for low-income and rural Oklahomans. But he’s thinking beyond just Medicaid expansion, which eventually would leave the state with a $1 billion price tag when the federal government stops paying its share. House leadership will be focused on working with the governor and the Senate to come up with a solution that takes care of the needs of Oklahomans and is not just a cookie-cutter approach or one that eventually costs the state more than it can pay.
I also was excited to hear the governor’s wish for the state to save some of its surplus instead of spending everything we have when we know eventually we’ll go through another down cycle. We must be prudent with our money just as we encourage our private citizens to be.
In the coming weeks, I will be digging into the governor’s executive budget and highlighting those areas where I know we can build consensus and make positive gains for our state.
In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts. Please contact my office by phone or email when you have any questions or concerns. Social media is great, but I don't always have time to check that as much as I would like. For faster results, I encourage you to reach out to me at the Capitol and visit with my assist Natasha Holliday or email me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.