A successful session for Gov. Stitt’s priorities (Capitol Update)

It appears this will be the last week of the legislative session with leadership saying they plan to adjourn either Thursday or Friday.

By any measure Governor Stitt can call this a successful session for his priorities. Early in the session he and legislative leadership agreed on a compromise plan allowing him, with Senate confirmation, to appoint five large state agency directors. In the past the directors were appointed by boards and commissions who were appointed by the governor. Because of overlapping terms, sitting governors were not always working with board members a majority of whom they had appointed. The truth is most governors could get the agency directors they wanted hired or fired by working behind the scenes, but Stitt wanted the direct authority, and he got it.

In the compromise, Stitt agreed to keep the boards and commissions and surrendered the appointment authority for some members to the legislative leadership. He also conceded the power to fire agency directors to the Legislature through an impeachment process. Whether this hybrid will work better than the previous system remains to be seen, but the governor did achieve his primary goal of hiring and firing agency directors.

The governor’s most notable budget victory was “saving” $200 million that was available for appropriation. No doubt, knowledgeable legislators who have been starving state government for the past several years would have liked to appropriate that money to meet pent up needs. My guess is this issue has been part of the hang up the past several weeks in getting to the budget agreement. But the governor parlayed his honeymoon status and certitude to the win.

The governor also got at least a partial victory on his call for a $1,200 pay raise for teachers. In the end the compromise was to mandate a $1,200 raise only for the teachers in school districts that are on the formula and to appropriate the funds through the formula. Schools not on the formula were encouraged to give their teachers a raise. Although the money is going through the formula rather than directly to teachers, an additional $74 million above the $59 million required for the pay increase was added to the formula to make it feasible for all formula schools to comply. This seems like a good compromise because schools with so much local wealth that they do not qualify for state aid should not have their wealth subsidized by the other districts.

The governor also asked for a small amount of mental health and criminal justice reform money that was basically a no-brainer, and he got it. No one wants to criticize this budget because it’s really the first decent year out of a horrible decade of revenue failures and budget cuts. And legislative leaders worked hard, beginning last August to accomplish it. But truthfully, leaving $200 million on the table reminds me of being around someone who needs a shower but instead just puts on a little additional cologne. The underlying problem was never addressed.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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