OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Defending your dollar or costing the state billions of dollars in revenue? It’s a question the Governor and the Legislature are playing a game of tug of war with.

Governor Kevin Stitt has called on the Legislature to deliver on the following agenda priorities:

  • A trigger law mandating that if a state or federal court finds that some individuals, due to their race, heritage, or political classification, don’t have to pay a state tax, then no Oklahoman will have to pay the tax.
  • A tax cut that puts Oklahoma on the path to zero income taxes. This will keep us in line with surrounding Republican-led states.
  • A measure that increases budget transparency to ensure that Oklahomans and their elected representatives have the ability and opportunity to see how their taxpayer dollars are being spent.

“Let me be very clear, with Oklahomans, I would never advocate to cut revenue below recurring expenses. So, we have to invest in education and roads and bridges and health care. We will absolutely pay for core services,” said Gov. Stitt. “My question for the legislature and for us to ask ourselves how big should government be when we have excess revenue like we did last year at $1.2 billion?”

The Oklahoma Tax Commission estimates a $4.4B loss in state revenue if income tax is fully eliminated while the Oklahoma Treasurer, Todd Russ argues it could be more than $5B.

The Governor pointed to the state’s recurring expenditure base, saying it sits at $9.6B. He also looked to the state’s savings account at $5.4B and the surplus at $1.2B.

“We don’t believe the governor’s numbers are accurate. He counts in some moneys that we would not count in there, but he at least owes it to us to come and explain how he arrived at those numbers,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat.

Pro Tem Treat invited the Governor to an Appropriations and Budget Committee meeting on Tuesday, but Stitt did not show up.

“I’m very disappointed that he chose not to. It’s not like he was out of the country. It’s not like he was out of the state. He was downstairs. He was three floors down holding a press conference,” stated Pro Tem Treat. “We wanted to give the governor the benefit of the doubt that he would actually show up and defend his plan.”

Instead, Governor Kevin Stitt was a few floors down holding his own press conference. His goal was to get senators to cut .25% of income taxes.

He said Oklahoma’s population had grown 8% since 2010 while the state budget had gone up nearly $13billion. The Governor added Oklahoma’s surplus last year was more than $2billion.

“This is unsustainable,” said the Governor.

Governor Stitt said the state could make that money back by Oklahomans spending more money.

“It comes back through sales tax, it comes back through businesses doing better,” said Governor Stitt. “We know that spurs the economy.”

Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa said Oklahomans wouldn’t get back as much as you’d think.

“Somebody in our caucus told us that a person making around $50,000 or more, or right around $50,000 . That would equate to only about $30 to $50 in a month, which is one dinner,” said Matthews, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee.

Matthews also wondered how the state would pay for public services.

“It would be great I didn’t have to pay taxes, but as a constituent myself and my constituents, it would be disastrous if we don’t have the funds to continue to have the public services that are needed for education, health care, mental health care,” said Matthews.

The governor was asked if he would be attending the budget meeting. The governor said no, but cited he had an open-door policy and would speak to lawmakers behind closed doors in caucuses.

“It’s the height of irony and hypocrisy to put in a call for budget transparency and then say, ‘I’m willing to meet behind closed doors with your caucus, but I’m not willing to meet in a open meeting.’ To be abundantly clear and transparent with you, he has not requested from myself or the caucus chair a meeting with our caucus. He has insinuated that in press conferences. He also has insinuated that him and the speaker and I continue to meet every Tuesday. That is not true. We meet on Tuesday during session and during session only. We have not met since May. I don’t know what the governor really wants other than what he tweets and what he told you at the press conference,” explained Pro Tem Treat.

Although Speaker McCall was present at the Governor’s press conference, Pro Tem Treat said he was not invited and was unaware until word was released Tuesday morning.

“It doesn’t intimidate me. It doesn’t scare me. I’ve got a caucus that I respond to. I’ve got a district that I respond to and I’ve got Oklahomans to be answerable to. We’ve got to leave this place better than we found it,” said Pro Tem Treat.

The Pro Tem said a tax cut is doable, but the legislature needs a plan and budget proposal from the Governor to move forward.

Because the Senate didn’t get answers and didn’t directly hear from the Governor on Tuesday, the Senate voted to adjourn sine die, meaning there is no set date for the legislature to reconvene as of Tuesday afternoon.

“The governor didn’t present a serious plan. He continues to run away from the Strobble case, which I thought was the whole impetus for the special session based on the reading of the special session call,” said Pro Tem Treat. “We want reform and we have advocated reform. Now, the difficult part about this is, what reform do you want? That is very hard to come up with. We have been studying it for roughly six months and there’s not a consensus on the best way to do it. I’m a believer in that if you give people more money, they know how to spend it more wisely and it eventually benefits the state.”


Oklahoma Politics

The Pro Tem told KFOR he did not preface the Speaker or Governor on the Senate’s motion to adjourn without setting a date to reconvene prior to making the call.

News 4 reached out to the Governor’s office for what’s next.

“The governor has been clear. He wants a quarter percent tax cut and to slow the growth of government. Senate leadership is denying Oklahomans their right to keep their hard earned money while continuing to increase the size of government every year,” said the Governor’s Communications Director, Abegail Cave. “No plans have been communicated to me at this time.”