Stitt Signs Bills to Cover Oklahoma Budget Shortfall Only Through April
Updated April 10, 7:23 a.m.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday signed two out of three bills lawmakers sent him this week to close a projected $416.8 million hole in the current fiscal year budget.
Stitt did not sign Senate Bill 199, which would have made $302.3 million in the state Rainy Day Fund available to spend.
"I am fully funding state government for April. There’s plenty of time for the legislature to come back and fix this for May and June. That’s what I’m asking them to do," Stitt said. "We had an agreement. I’m going to stick with the agreement."
Stitt signed Senate Bill 1053 and Senate Bill 617. Together, they would have let lawmakers move $201.6 million from the Rainy Day Fund to the Revenue Stabilization Fund and withdrawn enough money from the latter to cover the remaining $114.5 million shortfall.
Stitt is holding out for lawmakers to agree to replace money his Digital Transformation Fund would lose. The bills lawmakers sent him block any reserve funds from being sent to it.
"The House and Senate remain united by our actions to swiftly stabilize the budget, and call on the governor to finish the job. Further legislative action is not needed when a stabilized budget is already on the governor’s desk," House Speaker Charles McCall said in a statement. "There is no benefit to having the budget certainty the legislature swiftly provided jeopardized because of opposition to a noncritical issue representing 0.003% of the budget."
House Appropriations Chair Kevin Wallace said lawmakers worked with Budget Secretary Mike Mazzei, not Stitt, on the fixes they sent him, and Mazzei agreed to leave out digital transformation funding.
"Maybe the information and communication within the budget negotiations were not getting back to the governor," Wallace said.
Stitt said digital upgrades are more important than ever.
"We have 33,000 state employees working from home, digitally accessing their computers in the state office. We have 165,000 Oklahomans who have applied for unemployment. That means they have lost their jobs. They’re waiting in long lines, on hold in a call center. We have an outdated website, and we are making major improvements to turn that turn time around," Stitt said. "Our health department is adding Google chat bots and other technology to make sure Oklahomans can access the information they need."
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat noted the legislature gave Stitt authority to transfer up to $50 million in state funds to address the COVID-19 pandemic when it affirmed his declaration of a statewide health emergency.
"Surely a portion of that money could be used to address digital services responding to the health crisis," Treat said in a statement.
Even if lawmakers override Stitt to make that bill law, the state constitution says the State Board of Equalization must declare a revenue failure before they spend the money. Stitt has indicated the board won’t meet until lawmakers agree to fund his digital transformation initiative.
Stitt has not ruled out cuts to state agencies this fiscal year or next.