Capitol Insider: Governor Kevin Stitt Identifies Challenges And Goals Ahead Of 2022 State Of The State Address
As he prepares to deliver his 2022 State of the State Address, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt told KGOU's Dick Pryor and Quorum Call's Shawn Ashley about his goals for the upcoming legislative session and fourth year in office. KGOU will air the annual State of the State Address live at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, February 7.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Our guest is the governor of the State of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt. Governor, thanks for joining us.
Gov. Kevin Stitt: Great to be with you this morning and my fellow Oklahomans.
Dick Pryor: Governor, State Treasurer Randy McDaniel reports that Gross Receipts to the Treasury “swelled” in the last year and that the state's economy is doing very well. To what do you attribute that positive economic news?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: A couple of things. Number one, our policies over the last really two years, just really proud of how we've kept Oklahoma open and safe and free and kept our kids in school, kept our businesses open. And you're seeing a huge difference between us and a lot of other states right now. We have a budget surplus. We have the largest savings account in our state's history. Unemployment lowest it's ever been in our state's history. So just tons of positives going on. Obviously, oil and gas receipts are up, but I think overall it's really the fact that we kept our economy open, unlike some other states around the country.
Shawn Ashley: Governor, Treasurer McDaniel pointed specifically to federal funding that has flowed into the state and inflation for helping push up those gross receipts as well. Are you factoring any of that into your executive budget that you will present to the legislature? And if so, how?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: Yeah, you know, we have some one-time cash that's flowing in from the last couple of years and some of that federal money, maybe to your point, has artificially propped up the economy. And that's why it's very, very important that we keep reoccurring expenses to a level that we have revenue and we don't use a one-time cash to raise base level of expenses above where we can sustain them. You've got to remember before I took office, the two years before I took office, we had revenue failures, budget cuts, tax increases, trying to just balance the budget.
And so that's the best thing I've done as far as bringing some business acumen here to make sure that we are focused on keeping budgets flat and not going over our reoccurring revenue numbers. So, it's something that I'll be pushing this year as well. But traditionally, we've spent everything that was appropriated or ability to spend in the Board of Equalization meeting. And since I've been here, we've actually got into a discipline of savings and really looking at where's reoccurring expenses and then where is reoccurring revenue projected next year, this year, et cetera, et cetera.
Dick Pryor: The economy is looking good. What do you see as the top three challenges for the state in 2022?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: The biggest challenge - we're so thrilled that the Supreme Court is accepting to relook at the McGirt situation, and that was that was a huge win. The Supreme Court rarely accepts cert cases to rehear. And the fact that they're going to rehear a criminal case, I think is a is a huge win for law and order in eastern Oklahoma because the state needs clarification. Do we have the right to prosecute crimes in eastern Oklahoma and keep victims safe and give them justice? So that's something that we're really excited about. The budget is, is something we're excited about. And then when I, when I think about education, health care infrastructure, those are things that I'm always focused on.
We need to make generational impacts on education. I am not happy with where we're sitting right now. And I just met with our chancellor of higher education. Only 15 percent of our students across the state of Oklahoma that take the ACT are college ready in four subjects - English, math, science and reading. That's just not going to cut it. We're ranked 47th there, so we have got to be bold and create more opportunities, higher standards for our kids, aligning them with the jobs of tomorrow. I want every kid to be either college ready or workforce ready. And that's actually creating pathways to the Career Techs.
Infrastructure wise, I want to invest about $13 billion over the next ten years. Complete loops around Oklahoma City, Tulsa, six lane the Turner all the way up to Tulsa. Will Rogers Turnpike. Create more access to communities. I'm looking at safety issues and rural highways, creating more shoulders on all of our rural roads, so we've got a great infrastructure plan that we're excited about as well.
Shawn Ashley: Governor, there are a number of bills filed related to social issues. They include bills, for example, that would allow banning of books in school libraries, allow recall of local school board members and limit the ability of teachers to discuss current events in history and civics classes. Now I know you can't talk about any one bill. You just haven't seen the language yet. But where do you stand on the need for these types of legislative efforts?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: First off, I believe parents should have more, more choice in their kids’ education. You're seeing this highlighted all across the country. You saw the Virginia race. Governor Youngkin won that race because he was standing with parents and their ability to know what their kids are being taught. So, I think ultimately, when you open up education, give parents more choices where their kids go to school, more options with scholarships and charter schools and private schools and Christian schools that's all great. And so, I think that would solve itself.
I believe we need more access to, you know, the school board election. So, I'm pushing to move the school board elections to the general election in November. We've got election coming up in April and nobody votes in those elections. So, we need to align that and get parents more involved and get people more involved in those school board elections.
But you know, as far as teaching the history, the science, the reading, the English, we absolutely need to demand higher standards and teach all history. So, I'm not sure what bill you're talking about that's going to limit teaching history, but I'm not, not for that.
Dick Pryor: Governor, there has been a lot of political rhetoric over the last several years in Oklahoma against what critics call federal overreach. Now that you've been in your position as governor for three years, do you see areas where the state has overreached its boundaries?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: I don't think so. I mean, we, we really believe in local control and when you think about federal overreach and I'll just talk during the pandemic, we left the local mayors, the local jurisdictions, the ability to do that. Everybody pushed me and wanted me to do a statewide mandate here or there. And I said, “listen, there's not a one size fits all for Oklahoma.” We believe in freedoms and personal responsibilities, and I'm going to be transparent with the data, but we leave that up to some local communities if they want to do some things.
When I think about the way our forefathers designed our Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, they were very specific and concerned about a strong, centralized government. They were concerned about a federal government and a bureaucracy coming in and telling everybody in the United States what they should do and how they should live. And so, our 13 states, I believe, got it right in our Constitution when they limited the federal government, and they said all other powers belong to the states or the people. That's what we believe. And so, we're pushing back on where we think there's overreach from a president and an executive order telling us in our businesses what to do here in the state of Oklahoma.
Well, in the same sense, I have people saying that you need to limit businesses from doing vaccine mandates here in Oklahoma. And I said, “Guys, that's the same thing we're fighting back with the feds. The businesses should be able to either mandate vaccines or not mandate vaccines, but we're not going to have the federal government tell them they have to do something. And I'm not going to have the state government saying they can't do something.”
Ultimately, we're a right-to-work state and you let you let people choose what's best for them and their families. And I don't know how much clearer I can be on that. And I believe that's where Oklahomans stand. There's some people that want to dictate a mandate. Everybody's decision and want everybody to think the same. That's un-American. And I believe our Constitution protects the minority viewpoint. We can't just because the majority of the people think one way force every single person to think and do the exact same thing. We've got freedom of speech. We've got freedom of religion. And that's a good thing.
Shawn Ashley: Governor, you're in your fourth year, and probably your most prominently stated goal has been to make Oklahoma a top ten state. Over the past three years, in what areas has Oklahoma become a top ten state?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: You know, I've got a governor’s scorecard. It's online and I encourage everybody to look at it. And basically the idea is, is metrics. Take a realistic view of where we're at today. And on that little scorecard, it says where we rank today, where we need to be to be twenty-fifth, just average. And then where do we need to be top ten? So, I encourage all Oklahomans to go, go look at my scorecard.
But some of the things that we're already top ten at and I mean, we're number seven in bridge conditions, we're number twenty-eight in pavement conditions, we're number one in the lowest electricity price to the business and consumer in the US eleven out of the last thirteen quarters. That's a huge advantage. It’s because of our pioneering innovation, all of the above energy in Oklahoma. Children adjudicated in the courts we’re top ten in that. We’re forty sixth, we were fiftieth, last place in incarceration, and we've moved the needle four spots.
So, the top ten is something that I'm so proud of because it gives us something to talk about and it gives my agency heads something to shoot for. There's no reason that we can't go compete with any other state and win. So, we've got childhood obesity on there and we've got hotel rooms sold and we've got per capita income, our savings account, we're top ten in savings. I think we're number four in the country in per capita savings, all those things.
I'm just very transparent with Oklahomans. We're good at some things and we need a lot of improvement in others. But that's, that's kind of a great place and a good barometer that I'd encourage people to kind of help me push and then let me know where else we need to be pushing to move the needle for Oklahomans.
Dick Pryor: In terms of your administration's top three accomplishments, what would you say so far, would be the highlights.
Gov. Kevin Stitt: You know, number one is just that top ten attitude and the can-do attitude. When I took over, I'm a fourth generation Oklahoma and it just felt like we had we had budget crisises before I got here, we had teacher walkouts. We had state agencies losing money. So, I think number one is the attitude that I've brought to Oklahoma of we can and we should be a top ten state. We take second place to no other state. So, I'm really excited about change in that momentum.
And then from running state government like a business, I'm so proud of our business acumen. Budgets are being held flat. We have the largest savings account in our state history. I have two thousand fewer state employees than we did just a few years ago. We're bringing technology and efficiency and effective government to Oklahomans. So, I think those are some big things that I'm excited about.
I'm also really proud of the fact that we continue to diversify our economy and we're having the best year ever in commerce. Forty thousand more Oklahomans have jobs today than when I took office. Medium income is up. When I took over, it was forty-eight thousand. We're now approaching fifty-two thousand is our medium income in Oklahoma, so a lot of good, good positives there. But those are the three things I'm the most proud of.
Shawn Ashley: What had you hoped to accomplish by now that you've not been able to do?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: You know, I don't think there's one thing. I'm just, I think we've accomplished almost everything we've set out to do. You know, one thing that's kind of gotten tied up is I'm trying to improve health outcomes. And as you know, I'm trying to change the delivery method of Medicaid. Thirty percent of our Oklahomans are on Medicaid. And it's the largest spend in state government. And so it's, it's unsustainable in the long haul. If it's eight percent, excuse me, six percent growth rates and other states have figured out to keep it around one percent. And so that's one thing that I'm leaving that up to the legislature, however, they want to handle that. But it's something that needs to change. If we're going to be spending $8 billion of the taxpayers money we need to ask questions about outcomes, about health outcomes and how do we improve the health of Oklahomans. We're at the bottom and Oklahoma elected the wrong guy if they don't want me to push and try to get to top ten.
We're 47th in education. That's another thing that I'm frustrated with that we can't get more traction is higher standards. Three point two billion is what we spent from statewide appropriations. But the ad valorem, if you add up all the property taxes, we spent about ten billion in K through 12. And we need to have our kids college ready or work ready. And fifteen percent of our kids being college ready is not acceptable and we can do better. I know we can. So, we're going to have to think generationally to make it make a big impact there.
Dick Pryor: Will you have a specific policy focus in the year ahead?
Gov. Kevin Stitt: Yeah. You know, I always think about these four things and driving hope for Oklahomans. And under that pillar is education, criminal justice reform. And then we've got protecting our way of life. You know, medical marijuana is something we're focused on this year is how do we how do we protect Oklahomans? How do we enforce that industry, which is a whole 'nother topic. Just to give you one example on that one. In Oklahoma, we charge twenty-five hundred dollars, two thousand five-hundred dollars for a license. California charges a hundred and eighty-one thousand dollars for a grower’s license. And because of that, we have seven times the growers in California with just ten percent of the people. So, we know that not all of that product is being sold legally. So, we're trying to enforce to protect Oklahomans there. Protect rural Oklahomans.
My third pillar is top ten for business. If we get the economy going, that helps everybody. More tax dollars to the state. It helps wages go up for every single person across the state. So always trying to be top ten in business. A lot of policy items underneath that. And then the thing I'll always focus on is delivering taxpayers more for their money, which is technology and innovation and agency collaboration and consolidation. Appointment clean up so we can more align the leaders and all the different state agencies with the vision to be top ten. So those are the four pillars that always focus on - driving hope for Oklahomans, protecting Oklahomans and our way of life, top ten for business and delivering taxpayers more for their money.
Dick Pryor: Governor Kevin Stitt, we appreciate your time. Thank you for being our guest on Capitol Insider.
Gov. Kevin Stitt: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Shawn and Dick.
Dick Pryor: Thank you. And we will be airing the governor's State of the State Address Monday at 12:30 on KGOU. We would like to hear from you, as well. E-mail your questions to email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.