OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt wants a tax cut, and he’s tired of waiting.
After the state Senate declined to vote on a tax cut in a special legislative session last week, Stitt is poised to ratchet up the pressure on senators during the four-month legislative session that begins Monday.
In a Thursday interview where he highlighted some of his legislative priorities, Stitt said he will continue telling Oklahomans the Senate is refusing to cut their taxes.
“Until the leadership changes, until the Senate decides they believe in smaller government and lower taxes, I don’t think anything’s going to happen,” Stitt said.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, is in his final year in the Legislature, and Republican senators are poised to choose his successor soon.
Although the Senate has cut taxes in recent years by eliminating the state’s franchise tax, scrapping a tax penalty on married couples and creating a new private school tax credit, Treat and other GOP Senate leaders have resisted Stitt’s calls for larger cuts.
Stitt is likely to address the issue in his annual State of the State address on Monday, which marks the start of the Oklahoma Legislature’s regular legislative session.
“If I could write the laws and sign them, Oklahomans would already have a tax cut,” Stitt said.
Some senators have expressed concerns about the potential long-term impacts of major tax cuts, especially during an economic downturn. The state has a history of budget shortfalls stemming in part from Oklahoma’s reliance on volatile revenue sources and numerous tax cuts.
It’s not clear how far Stitt is willing to go to get what he wants. He’s already said he won’t consider state employee pay raises until lawmakers cut taxes. Last year, Stitt went on a veto spree in an effort to get the Senate to cut taxes and approve an education plan.
Border, immigration top of mind for Stitt
As Texas clashes with the federal government over illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border, Stitt is mulling how Oklahoma can get involved.
Stitt has done a series of national interviews to tout his support for Texas as the state’s National Guard continues installing razor wire at the border even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it can be removed by federal border patrol agents.
The governor said he’ll once again deploy the Oklahoma National Guard to the border if Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asks for assistance. Stitt sent National Guard troops to the border last year for a 30-day deployment that cost more than $544,000, according to Oklahoma Watch.
Stitt backs flat budgets for state agencies
After Stitt and legislative leaders agreed last year to increase funding for public schools by more than $600 million, the governor said he’s hesitant to increase common education funding again this year.
“I think we need to let it absorb a little bit,” he said. “I’m calling for flat budgets this year.”
Some Republican lawmakers are calling for increased investments in public schools, including pay hikes for teachers.
Stitt continues to advocate for more charter schools in the state, especially those that offer students specialized skills.
Over time, Stitt said he wants lawmakers to eliminate the funding cap on a new, private school tax credit program. That’s not a priority right now because everybody that wants the tax credit seems to be receiving it, he said.
Will relations between Stitt, tribal leaders improve?
In the backdrop of the legislative session, Stitt will continue negotiating with tribal leaders on new tobacco and motor vehicle registration compacts.
Stitt said his attorneys sent the same compact terms he offered the Chickasaw Nation to the state’s other tribal nations. State records show the Citizen Potawatomi and Wyandotte nations signed new tobacco compacts with Stitt after the Chickasaw Nation finalized new agreements.
But relations between Stitt and some tribes remain strained.
The governor has advocated for legalizing sports betting in Oklahoma, but he doesn’t want the tribes to retain the exclusive right to offer the new form of gaming.
And Stitt and the state’s major tribes are on opposing sides of two cases before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Those cases pertain to the taxation of tribal citizens and whether lawmakers had the authority to pass legislation last year to offer one-year extensions of some state-tribal compacts.
Stitt said he is always open to discussions with tribal members and floated the idea of having a weekly standing meeting at the Capitol for all tribal leaders to share their concerns.
A member of the Cherokee Nation, Stitt said he doesn’t dislike the tribes. He said he’s simply unwilling to give them everything they want.
“If the tribes are saying, ‘Stitt’s an idiot, and he’s tearing up Oklahoma,’ you’ve got to be thinking in the back of your head, what are they getting out of this?” Stitt said. “Why are they saying that? Where do they benefit?”
Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janelle Stecklein for questions: email@example.com. Follow Oklahoma Voice on Facebook and Twitter.