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Gov. Stitt, Legislative Leaders Clash Over Filling Budget Hole

Updated 9:19 p.m.

In front of piles of boxes filled with gloves, gowns and face shields, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on Tuesday said he and the rest of the state are working around the clock to manage the threat of the novel coronavirus.

Stitt said he is cautiously optimistic that growth of coronavirus in Oklahoma is flattening, pointing toward a decrease in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 this week compared to last.

But, the governor said the fiscal outlook for the state is not looking better. A drop in oil prices and the economic shut down brought on by COVID-19 have been a double whammy for the state.

On Monday, the state Legislature passed three bills shifting money around to fund state agencies for the rest of the year. However, the governor indicated he might not sign them and that cuts are likely for the final months of this year’s budget and next year’s.

"Asking the state government also to cut expenses by 1 or 2 percent is reasonable in the current situation that we're in. So we're talking about agency cuts," Stitt said.

State legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle quickly rebuffed Stitt's comments. House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) said the legislature won't be changing its mind.

"The state’s reserves, which exist for emergencies just like this, are sufficient for services to continue uninterrupted," McCall said. "The legislative branch controls the power of the purse, and we have made our position clear."

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) said the legislature's goal in passing the three bills was to prevent budget cuts to public schools, health care, first responders and other core state services.

"The legislature is a co-equal branch of government vested with the authority to write the budget. We take that role seriously," Treat said. "I am hopeful that the governor signs all the legislation that was sent to his desk this week."

Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) said state Senate Democrats are disappointed in the governor's proposal.

"Every day dedicated and hard-working state employees are on the frontlines of Oklahoma's efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19," Floyd said. "Now is not the time to be reducing much needed resources for state agencies."

In a Twitter thread, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) urged Stitt to sign the bills.

"This is not the time to be cutting core services," Virgin said. "More people than ever are depending on these services, and we have a moral responsibility to provide them."

In his press conference, Stitt encouraged people to take personal responsibility to curb the coronavirus. He said he hopes Oklahomans will do their part by staying home.

Oklahoma is one of only eight states that has not issued a statewide stay-at home order.

Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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