Governor Kevin Stitt vetoed the $7.7 billion budget for the coming fiscal year on Wednesday afternoon, but within minutes, the Oklahoma Senate voted to override his veto. Several hours later, the Oklahoma House did the same and the budget was enacted.
Stitt contends the budget was created behind closed doors and without meaningful input or consultation from the Executive Branch.
"This proposed budget does not reflect the values of Oklahoma or the clear directive voters gave elected officials at the ballot box of living within our means and making hard decisions when times get tough," Stitt said in a written statement. "Instead, Senate Bill 1922 reflects misguided policies that conservative Republicans have spent the past decade reversing.
It took just 21 minutes after Stitt's veto announcement for the Senate to override it, by a vote of 35 to 11. Several hours later, the House voted 79-20 in favor of the override.
"The Legislature stood united to override the deep cuts these disappointing vetoes would have caused to our shared priority of public education," House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said in a statement. "While we did not take it lightly, we strongly agreed the Legislature’s coequal constitutional powers had to be exercised to correct and override the governor on this matter."
In a press conference earlier this week, Stitt said he would not "play a part in harming Oklahoma's teachers," and that he would veto two of the bills because they "rob from our teachers’ retirement fund, our law enforcement retirement fund and our firefighters’ retirement fund."
The three budget bills funnel about $290 million from those state funds and a highway construction fund into common education. They're part of a package of bills passed by the legislature last week as part of their budget deal in which the governor says he wasn’t involved.
Stitt says taking money from one fund to pay for education isn't fiscally responsible and he called on the legislature to find other ways to fill the budget gap.
Schools are already hurting from coronavirus, which will shrink an already ailing education system's budget by several percentage points.
Lawmakers say a barrier in the budget process has been Stitt's lack of transparency over how he plans to spend $800 million in federal CARES Act relief funds. Stitt points to guidance from the U.S. Treasury that says funds may only be used as reimbursement for costs that are related to the COVID-19 public health emergency and were not accounted for in existing budgets.
"Governor Stitt is quick to point out that the money can't be used on anything but things that have been impacted by COVID-19," House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said in a statement. "However, after looking at our state revenue figures, looking at stores shuttered across the state, Oklahoma’s workforce reeling from unemployment and furloughs, we wonder 'what exactly hasn’t been affected by COVID-19?'"