Editor’s Note: The following blog post is not intended to be an opinion piece on Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s 2021 State of the State Address. Rather, this is an objective overview of items he covered during his speech for reference as we cover the 2021 Legislative Session for the Okie Muslim community.
Gov. Stitt’s State of the State Address 2021
Governor Stitt’s State Address was one of hope and optimism for the upcoming year. The pandemic and its consequences shocked the nation, and every state has chosen to respond differently. Gov. Stitt reiterated his goal has throughout been to protect businesses while renewing his past promise to make Oklahoma government more efficient to better serve its citizens. Education was again a central part of the Governor’s platform, insisting that Oklahoma Children return to in-person classes, and he hopes to revise the funding formula in attempt increase savings. 2020 was the year of consolidation, and it appears that focus of 2021 is modernization of state agencies, specifically implementing a promotion process that emphasizes merit over seniority. While the pandemic has caused a shift in policy focus, 2021 echoes past speeches of efficiency, savings, and protecting Oklahoma’s major industries.
Agenda Priorities Overview
1. Recovering from the pandemic
2. Staying “business friendly”
3. Modernizing state agencies
4. Changing the funding formula for schools and allowing the option for in-person instruction
5. Improving infrastructure
6. Minimizing government overreach
7. Fiscal prudence and smart budgeting
8. Implementing “managed care”
9. Strengthening state sovereignty while working with Oklahoma’s tribes
Gov. Stitt’s speech primarily centered around the pandemic and Oklahoma’s willingness to reopen “smart and safely”, while protecting businesses and continuing to educate Oklahoma’s children. The Governor discussed about several pandemic related points, but they can be reduced as follows:
1. Continuing to promote an open economy and protect business
2. Allow an option for in-person instruction in Oklahoma schools
3. Vaccine Administration
a. Priority for frontline healthcare workers as well as teachers
b. Continue to accelerate rollout of vaccine
i. Stitt cited a statistic that Oklahoma is number seven per capita for vaccine administration and hopes to further accelerate the effort
4. Return to normalcy for the entire state by the beginning of summer.
The following is a list of topics that Gov. Stitt hopes to prioritize in the upcoming session:
1. Low Taxes
2. Protect oil and gas industry
3. Protect farmers and ranchers
4. Ensure the rights of unborn children
5. Protect and promote religious freedom
6. Implementing business friendly policies
Business and Budgeting
The Governor discussed a number of points related to business and the state budget. He hopes the state can capitalize on luring businesses away from states like New York and California. The Governor urged the legislature to continue to practice fiscal responsibility and replenish the state’s rainy-day funds with projections of a positive fiscal year.
• Lure companies away from “anti-business” states
• Continue to modernize and update infrastructure
• Cut red tape and regulations
• Replenish state savings
• Modernizing state agencies
o Cited the closure of DHS offices and focus on embedding services within the community
o Allowing for a merit-based system of promotion and raises while removing outdated restrictions and procedures
The Governor affirmed his stance on reopening schools, insisting that schools provide an in-person option across the state. Gov. Stitt also plans to prioritize revising the budgeting system for funding to be allocated based on current enrollment, rather than allowing schools to report their highest number in the past three years. Gov. Stitt argued that by allowing states to report their highest number the state would be paying for “ghost students”, costing the state almost 200 million dollars each year.
The Governor’s points on healthcare lacked any discussion substantial policies. He promised to reinvent healthcare that would provide high quality service at lower prices to Oklahomans. The only policy point of substance was his wish to implement “managed care”.
State Sovereignty and Tribal Relations
In light of recent court cases, the Governor touched on his worry that Oklahoma’s state sovereignty and regulatory abilities would be weakened in relation to Oklahoma’s tribes. He cited multiple examples that could be affected
1. Ruling of crimes that occur on tribal lands
2. Ability to tax tribal members
a. A loss of up to 200 million dollars for the state
3. Regulation of waterways
4. The state’s ability to enforce laws in general
The Governor affirmed that we are all “one Oklahoma”, and he hopes to work with the tribes to resolve these differences.