Governor Stitt’s State of the State Address 2022

Governor Stitt’s 2022 State of the State Address was one in which he attempted to instill hope in Oklahomans and get his constituents excited about making Oklahoma a Top 10 state. All the while, the Governor overlooked many important topics including absolutely no mention of the COVID-19 pandemic and its continued impact on Oklahoma; made no mention of the resettlement of Afghan Refugees to our state despite the fact that we have accepted the third-largest population in the country; and failed to recognize our religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity outside of his tokenization of Muscogee tribal leaders present as his guests. Overall, Governor Stitt was enthusiastic and hopeful, but beneath the surface, his points lacked substance and heart. In an election year, I guess that is all we can expect.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good:  

  • Oklahoma has improved on its highways and bridges. From being 49th place in 2004 when 17% of our bridges were structurally deficient or poor, we are now number 7 in the nation for the lowest number of structurally deficient bridges on our highway system: https://oklahoma.gov/odot/citizen/newsroom/2021/september/oklahoma-moves-up-to-no–7-in-highway-bridge-conditions–keeps-t.html
  • Gov. Stitt also proposed the elimination of the sales tax on grocery products, a move that seems to have bipartisan support. Oklahoma’s grocery tax is 4.5%, the fourth-highest in the minority of states that still have grocery taxes. Regressive taxes disproportionately hurt low-earners and the middle class, so this plan seems a step in the right direction.

Bad:

  • However, Gov. Stitt’s push to lower income taxes should be met with some caution. While his tax cuts that went into effect Jan. 1 did include refunds to the earned income tax credit, which helps low-income individuals, it also reduced the corporate income tax as well as taxes on the highest earners, meaning that average Oklahoma families benefit less than those who can well afford to contribute. Middle-income earners, the majority of taxpayers, would benefit from these cuts the least. Years of income tax cuts have resulted in severe cuts to funding for core state services like education, child welfare, and infrastructure developments, and the dubious benefits of more money in the pockets of corporations and high earners have not produced the promised results for the majority of Oklahomans.
  • Despite Gov. Stitt’s stated intentions to make Oklahoma a more business-friendly state, the fact is that Employers in Oklahoma already enjoy very favorable conditions in a “right to work” state. Oklahoma cut the expanded federal unemployment benefits that were intended to help workers who lost their jobs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in May 2021, with Gov. Stitt claiming that these benefits produced the current “labor shortage,” but not all analysts agree. And his attacks on the medical marijuana industry, which was enabled by a vote of the people in 2018, do not seem to be borne out by any reliable data.
  • For a more detailed analysis of Gov. Stitt’s claims about the “labor shortage,” check out this report by The Frontier: https://www.readfrontier.org/stories/we-fact-checked-claims-about-unemployment-and-oklahomas-labor-shortage/

Ugly: 

  • Gov. Stitt continued his attacks on tribal sovereignty with his claims about the decision in the McGirt v. Oklahoma case. The 2020 decision affirmed the reservation boundaries for six Native American tribes in Eastern Oklahoma, returning the right to prosecute crimes committed by tribal members to tribal and federal governments. Tribal sovereignty has been ignored far too long, and the constant fighting with our tribal leadership weakens every system in our state. His claims that the defendant in the Roth case would go free without a blemish on his record are patently false, according to legal analysts and tribal governments alike. Although the Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases like Roth’s regarding state/tribal concurrent jurisdiction, the truth of the matter is that we all benefit when we work with our indigenous communities, not against them.
  • Over 12,000 Oklahomans have died of COVID – the highest rate in the country – yet Gov. Stitt completely failed to make any mention of the ongoing pandemic in his remarks. Efforts to address its devastating effects on our school systems have led to “creative” solutions such as deputizing state employees, the National Guard, and even local police into classrooms, rather than allowing school districts to take mitigation efforts such as mask mandates, virtual hybrids, and limited closures when variants spread. The pandemic has only worsened issues in the education sector, with a shortage of experienced teachers and a lack of resources to fund our classrooms and fully support our kids.
  • In addition, the state’s failure to fully address the COVID pandemic has critically overwhelmed our state’s hospital systems. Staffing shortages are only a part of the problem; burnout, exhaustion, and the mental toll of constant threats and harassment are causing healthcare workers to leave the industry in droves. Rural communities lack beds for other medical care as COVID patients overwhelm already-stressed healthcare systems. Overall, Gov. Stitt’s reluctance to take firm action has had devastating consequences for medical care in our state.
  • Public education is a foundation of our democracy – all parents should have the choice to send their kids to quality schools, not just the wealthy. But Gov. Stitt’s misdirected focus on “school choice” shows that he is committed to pushing more students into private and charter schools, leaving fewer and fewer resources for public education. Children are not best served by classroom censorship, despite continued efforts to restrict  “social-emotional learning” and even fine teachers $10,000 if they offend the religious beliefs of students. They are, however, harmed by exhausted, stressed teachers who have no protection for their health or safety, and by inexperienced adults who have no idea how best to meet their needs.

While Gov. Stitt’s State of the State Address did highlight some improvements, most notably in the quality of our roads and bridges as well as a step in the right direction for ending the regressive grocery tax, many areas of concern remain. This year, your involvement in local and state politics will be more important than ever as we approach elections for a number of important positions, including the governor’s role itself. If you are also concerned about the state of our state, now is the time to get involved, make your voice heard, and take action for the safety and well-being of your community.

(CAIR Oklahoma is a nonpartisan 501(c)3 organization and does not either support or oppose candidates for political office.)

 

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