The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced Governor Kevin Stitt’s budget secretary pick Monday after pausing on the nomination last week.
Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson got into a back-and-forth with nominee Mike Mazzei last Wednesday over whether the governor’s office was telling agencies not to talk budget with lawmakers. The committee reconvened Monday. Before members voted, Sen. Joe Newhouse, who's carrying Mazzei's nomination, asked them to stick to the task at hand.
"Your vote is not on the referendum of how the governor processes or approaches the budget negotiations. Your vote today is on an individual, on how that individual’s going to advise the governor," Newhouse said.
Mazzei, a former state senator, chaired the finance committee for 10 years and is a certified financial planner and president of Tulsa Wealth Advisors.
While all sorts of funding requests have come in with the state having an extra $574 million to spend this year, Stitt is eyeing one-third or more of that for savings. Mazzei said Stitt has good reason for wanting to build Oklahoma’s reserves to $2 billion.
"If we have two to three months’ worth of expenses in cash just as if you would have when you’re running a successful business, you can withstand a downturn. We wouldn’t have to cut important core services, and a tax increase in that scenario would not be necessary," Mazzei said.
Mazzei said there's enough money to go around, and education is high on Stitt’s list of budget priorities — especially another teacher pay raise.
"The governor’s goal is to make our teachers the No. 1 paid teachers in the region as well as a significant amount of funding for local districts to direct as they see fit," Mazzei said.
Mazzei says higher education and career tech will also get more money.
Mazzei’s nomination advanced to the full Senate on a 20–0 vote.