Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt called for tax cuts, expanded school choice options, and stronger regulation of the medical marijuana industry during his fourth State of the State speech Monday.
Stitt said he would support legislation to make Oklahoma “a national leader in school choice,” including a bill by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat for universal school vouchers, with individual funding accounts for students.
“In Oklahoma, we listen to parents because we know God gave kids to parents – not the government,” Stitt said to applause.
Stitt also criticized the state’s teacher unions and the school transportation formula and proposed a plan to provide matching funds to some teachers to entice them to stay in classrooms rather than become administrators.
Cracking down on illegal medical marijuana operations also tops Stitt’s priorities this year. He blamed widespread industry problems on the wording of a state question in 2018 to legalize medical marijuana and said Oklahomans were misled when they approved the measure by a 56 percent margin.
“This is causing major problems in our communities, and we must get it under control,” Stitt said.
Stitt also called for better mental health treatment and pay for law enforcement officers and encouraged combining state law enforcement entities into a single department.
Stitt also said he also supports eliminating the state’s 4.5 percent tax on groceries. A few lawmakers have already filed bills to eliminate the tax, which have bipartisan support.
“We need more taxpayers, not more taxes,” Stitt said.
Last year, state leaders cut corporate and individual income taxes. Stitt and legislative leaders said the time is right to cut taxes again because the state is flush with federal COVID-19 relief funding and tax revenue has soared. They plan to hold the state budget flat this year.
Stitt said he plans to ask lawmakers to raise the cap on the state’s reserve fund as well as invest $13 billion in transportation over the next 10 years, which would include improving highways.
Oklahoma enters the 2022 legislative session with more than $2 billion in reserves — the largest savings in state history, Stitt said.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said in a statement that the House will also focus on tightening law enforcement in the medical marijuana industry and continuing to cut taxes and save money.
“House Republicans found plenty to like in the governor’s speech,” McCall said.
Treat said the governor’s priorities “will take Oklahoma to the next level.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman called Stitt’s speech divisive. The governor did not mention the COVID-19 pandemic, although an additional 10,000 Oklahomans have died in the last year, Virgin said.
House and Senate Democrats have criticized the Republican-led school choice agenda for siphoning state resources from public education.
“We know that the vast majority of students in Oklahoma attend public schools, yet the governor wants to take resources out of those public schools and send them to private schools in the form of vouchers,” Virgin said.