Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt pushes for continuation of conservative agenda at State of the State
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has taken his re-election as a mandate from conservative voters: grow school choice, cut taxes and ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors.
Stitt delivered the first State of the State address of his second term Monday. The event kicks off a legislative session where conservative priorities will be front and center. In his speech, he touted past successes.
“We said that we would put a fresh set of eyes on state government, cut red tape, and create a more transparent government – and we delivered,” Stitt said. “We’ve done this by sticking to our conservative principles: smaller government, lower taxes, family, freedom and faith.”
He also looked forward, pushing an agenda that will feature a number of big policy priorities.
Ban on gender-affirming care for minors
Stitt joined a host of high-profile conservatives across the country criticizing gender-affirming care for young people.
“Minors can’t vote, can’t purchase alcohol, can’t purchase cigarettes… We shouldn’t allow a minor to get a permanent gender altering surgery in Oklahoma,” Stitt said.
He also called for bans on hormone therapies, many of which are reversible.
Gender-affirming care is the latest trans issue to catch fire in Oklahoma politics. Conservative lawmakers have already cracked down on trans athletes in girls’ and women’s sports and have bannedgender-inclusive bathroom policies in schools.
Oklahoma legislators have introduced a spate of bills that aim to criminalize gender-affirming treatments, including hormone therapies. The messaging around these bills focuses on care for minors. But one bill affects Oklahomans as old as 21, and another,those as old as 26.
Before the address, a protest against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation began on the south steps and moved into the building. The protestors started chanting about ten minutes before the session was scheduled to begin at noon. Chants included “Protect trans kids” and “We are Oklahoma.”
Democratic Representative Mauree Turner joined chant leaders on the bridge overlooking the rotunda. Turner thanked the protestors and encouraged the crowd to “continue to show up when you can and how you can.”
Among the demonstrators was Nicole McAfee, the executive director of 2SLGBTQ+ rights organization Freedom Oklahoma.
“Trans folks are here,” they said. “We belong here… We’re here now to make sure the governor knows we’re not going anywhere.”
Cutting taxes and making Oklahoma more 'business friendly'
Throughout the speech, Stitt highlighted his goal to cut taxes for Oklahomans. His proposed budget would reduce the state income tax from 4.75% to 3.99%, which would cost the state about $261 million.
“We need to return excess revenue to the people, not grow government,” Stitt said during his speech, eliciting applause from the audience.
“There seems to be enthusiasm in some areas for tax cuts,” said Senator Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) after the speech. “I was not one of those yet. I think we need to take care of the needs of the people of Oklahoma as we move forward.”
As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Thompson is responsible for balancing the state’s books.
“We have accumulated a $4 billion savings account, and we’re going into this session with a $1.8 billion surplus,” Stitt said.
But Thompson points out that the state won’t be able to count on as many federal funds as it has in the past few years. Oklahoma received nearly $2 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act and $2.5 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, but those were one-time allocations.
“I'm not against tax cuts, but [it] needs to be well-thought-out,” Thompson said. “You cut taxes, they stay cut. So I want to make sure it's thoroughly vetted before.”
Growing school choice
Stitt revealed $382.6 million in education priorities for this legislative session as part of his budget proposal, and vouchers are at the top of his wishlist.
Stitt’s asking $130 million toward the establishment of education savings accounts, also known as vouchers, which would allow public dollars to be used for education expenses, including private school enrollment. The legislature will decide what, if any, of Stitt’s proposal it wants to include in the final budget.
“Parents spoke loud and clear at the ballot box last November in support of our vision to create more options for kids,” Stitt said. “We know not every student learns the same way. Every child deserves a quality education that fits their unique needs.”
House Speaker Charles McCall was one of the chief opponents of last session’s education savings account legislation. It’s unclear what level of support he’ll give. He issued a statement mostly praising Stitt’s speech.
“Parents have the right to have a say in their child's educational journey, students should have every opportunity to succeed and our teachers need the support necessary to excel in the classroom,” he said in a statement. “The House will continue to make sure any education policy passed works well in all parts of our state.”
Speech draws praise from GOP allies
Republican lawmakers hold a supermajority in both chambers, so how their legislative leaders work with the governor will be critical during the session.
House Speaker McCall was largely supportive of Stitt’s speech in a statement sent out to reporters.
“The House has been proactively addressing many of the issues Gov. Stitt identified as priorities, and we are ready to work with our colleagues in the Senate and executive branch as we craft legislation that provides benefits for all Oklahomans,” he said in the statement.
He further re-emphasized house leadership’s goal to tout inflation relief.
“During the previous regular session, and in a special session, the House passed multiple bills aimed at addressing inflation and allowing Oklahomans to keep more of their hard-earned money,” McCall said. “We are once again committed to getting meaningful inflation relief through the legislative process and to the governor's desk.”
McCall’s counterpart in the Senate, Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, also expressed support.
“The governor outlined numerous priorities that will continue our state’s positive momentum,” Treat said. “His clear vision and attainable results are focused on making Oklahoma the best place possible for everyone to succeed, while improving our economy and standing in the global market. Improving public education outcomes, tax reform and workforce development are all high priorities for Senate Republicans this year. We look forward to working with the governor on these important areas and more. I am optimistic about this year and believe we will have success together to benefit Oklahoma.”
Democrats respond to Stitt’s speech
Oklahoma Democratic leaders held a press briefing following the joint session to react to Stitt’s priorities outlined in his speech. While they were supportive of the Governor’s call for the removal of the grocery tax — a bipartisan issue that was big last session, they still had concerns about his plan for education.
Democrats account for nearly 19% of the entire state legislature. The minority party leaders say they weren’t surprised by Stitt’s State of the State speech.
They still say they’re uneasy with many of his proposals like private school vouchers, restrictions on abortion access and other issues.
Stillwater Democrat Rep. Trish Ranson says she’s concerned the GOP is keeping too much money – almost $4 billion – in its reserves, instead of spending on government services.
“We call on the Republican Party to invest in Oklahoma,” Ranson said. “All of Oklahoma… I do not believe that the taxpayers of our state enjoy the idea that all of their money is in a savings account. We need to be reinvesting in our state so that our state can grow.”
This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.