Oklahoma lawmakers override Stitt's veto of $7.7B budget, pension bills

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Oklahoma lawmakers quickly overrode Gov. Kevin Stitt’s veto of a $7.7 billion budget, as they clashed over how deeply to cut spending amid the worsening economic crisis.

Within hours after Stitt’s veto of Senate Bill 1922 on Wednesday, legislative leaders organized the vote to override.

While Stitt cited lack of involvement by his office in formulating the budget, legislative leaders accused him of walking away from the process.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt

The budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1, cuts about 4% from state agencies and 2.5% in education spending. Some agencies saw their budgets slashed more, with others spared larger cuts. Lawmakers said the budget protects core services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Stitt fears consequences for the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“This budget is going to back the state into a financial corner, which leaves us with very few options in FY 2022,” Stitt said in a prepared veto statement. “We will either have to raise taxes or implement draconian cuts. As governor I am here to protect the taxpayer — not harm them.”

Lawmakers also overrode Stitt vetoes of three other finance bills, including one that will lead to bonding. House Bill 2741 and House Bill 2742 reduce the percentage of revenue appropriated in FY 2021 to the Teachers’ Retirement System, Oklahoma Firefighters’ Pension and Retirement Fund, Police Pension and Retirement System, and Law Enforcement Retirement Fund and increase revenue appropriated to the 1017 Education Fund.

“We have made great progress shoring up our retirement systems in the last few years, and now is not the time to undo that progress,” said Stitt. “These bills would take tens of millions of dollars away from teachers, law enforcement officers, and firefighters to fund district costs, and it would bring our funding ratio back down to where it was in 2014.”

House Bill 2743 would take $180 million from the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety Fund.

“House Bill 2743 would force ODOT (Oklahoma Department of Transportation) to unnecessarily take on additional debt through the use of bonds,” Stitt said. “Because of the State’s dedication to the ODOT plan, we are now up to 13th in bridges and improving our roads. I understand and agree with the use of bonds in limited circumstances. However, I cannot support the use of bonds to plug budget holes.”

Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said minority Democrats opposed the override of SB 1922.

“Most Senate Democrats also opposed ... override [of] the governor’s vetoes of HB 2741 and HB 2742, bills to divert funds from the Teacher’s Retirement System and Fire Fighter and Police pensions,” Floyd said. “While we agree funding is needed to prevent cuts to education, we do not believe taking funds intended for public pensions is the way to do it.”

When Republican legislative leaders announced agreement on the budget, they touted the fact that spending cuts in an economic emergency were judicious.

“This is a far better budget than many expected and that should come as a relief to the citizens who rely on core services and the agencies that serve them, given the effect of both depressed oil and gas prices and the pandemic on state revenues,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “We successfully avoided the catastrophic cuts some had feared, and I thank the budget chairs and their committees for their hard work and leadership during this difficult time.”

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Coronavirus State budgets Oklahoma Department of Transportation Oklahoma Budgets