OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After his first year in office, Governor Kevin Stitt spoke about the economy, tribal gaming, and Medicaid during his State of the State Address.
“The state of our state is growing in strength, stability, and new opportunity for generations to come. We are moving in the direction we all want to go: Top Ten in the Nation,” Stitt said.
Stitt said that even though officials expect a drop in the state’s general revenue fund, the state’s prospects are positive for the next fiscal year.
“The fiscal discipline displayed by many of you in this room last year has allowed the State to garner its largest savings account in Oklahoma’s history at $1 billion. As a result, Moody’s Investor Service changed Oklahoma’s outlook from “stable” to “positive” in October. Their decision reflects an expectation that Oklahoma will maintain “strong fiscal management” and “a commitment to increasing reserves,'” Stitt said.
Although the savings account is growing, Stitt says he will still ask state leaders to set aside $100 million in additional funds as part of the upcoming budget.
“By saving in the good times, we are demonstrating our commitment to protect the taxpayer, the job creator, and the citizen who depends on core services,” Stitt said.
Stitt also boasted the diverse economy in the state. He said that when a major facility closed in El Reno, residents were still able to get jobs in other industries.
In December, Halliburton announced that it was cutting more than 800 jobs due to ‘local market conditions.’
“We deployed two career fairs, and more than 350 Oklahomans were offered employment with companies in aerospace, finance, manufacturing, healthcare and more. This was possible because Oklahoma’s economy remains on good footing,” he said.
Stitt said that tourism was actually one of the state’s strongest industries, adding that Oklahoma’s tourism website achieved a No. 1 ranking in web traffic, beating destinations like California and Colorado.
At the same time, officials are preparing for the largest movie production in state history with ‘Killers of Flower Moon.’ Stitt says the film should inject millions into the state’s economy.
Right now, he says the biggest challenge that the state is facing is government bureaucracy.
“In my first year of public service and as the chief executive, I have found government too big and too broken,” he said.
This past year, state agencies published their spending online to provide increased transparency for how taxpayer money is spent.
“Most importantly, the Legislature delivered the strongest accountability in state history when you sent to my desk legislation to reform five of our state’s largest agencies. This action strengthened our budgeting oversight. Time and time again, state agencies would ask you for more money as the solution. But I’m here to tell you it’s not all about funding. It’s about focus. It’s about leadership,” he said.
Stitt says that the prison system asked for an extra $1 billion, and that the Pardon and Parole Board said they could not take on an increased casework without more employees and more funding.
“I was told that it would be logistically impossible to accomplish a large commutation docket to give low-level, non-violent offenders a second chance,” he said.
Instead, he says the Legislature passed better policies and streamlined casework. At the same time, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections launched its first re-entry fairs across 28 facilities for inmates who were part of the HB 1269 commutation docket.
As a result of the policy change, the prison population dropped by 7.6 percent, putting it at its lowest level since 2009.
Stitt says he hopes to streamline other operations that are duplicative across similar agencies.
“Some will cry that consolidation is disruptive. Let me be clear – it will be for political insiders and those that find comfort in big bureaucracy. But it is what we need to do to improve decision-making, deliver better accountability, and target dollars directly towards helping our citizens instead of paying for administrative bloat,” he said.
Stitt said that Oklahoma has the 9th most state agencies across the country.
“There is no value to having more agencies than other states; it has not solved our Bottom Ten rankings in critical categories,” he said.
The governor also addressed his recent proposal for Medicaid reform in the state. The announcement comes months after thousands of Oklahomans signed a petition in favor of Medicaid expansion.
“With straight Medicaid Expansion, Oklahoma will be left with the same ineffective and unaccountable program that has failed to bring us out of Bottom Ten rankings,” he said.
Stitt says that the Legislature needs to create one central health agency to combine the efforts of the State Department of Health, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health, and the state’s licensing boards.
Stitt boasted the increase in education funding, but said the state needed to look at Oklahoma’s funding formula. He also called for the Legislature to build a competitive Teacher Retirement System by investing more than $300 million annually above the current contributions.
“We must also continue to recruit the best teachers and confront our teacher shortage. I support legislation that would direct the State Board of Education to issue a teaching certificate to anyone who holds a valid out-of-state teaching certification, with no other requirements except a criminal history record check,” he said.
Gov. Stitt also spent some time speaking about his ongoing battle with Native American tribes regarding tribal gaming exclusivity fees. After failing to reach an agreement, the case is headed to a federal courtroom.
“While we wait for the federal court’s decision, I am calling for the Legislature to join me in protecting public education. I am asking for legislation that will allow the remaining cash balance from 2019 and funds from the Revenue Stabilization Fund to be leveraged, if needed, to compensate for any temporary pause in Class III gaming fees,” he said.
Gov. Stitt also filed an executive order that would instruct state agencies to remove two regulations for every new one that is created.
“The intent is to reduce red tape by 25% in the next three years, providing relief to Oklahoma’s job creators and farmers and ranchers while also strengthening our recruitment efforts to diversify and grow Oklahoma’s economy,” he said.