2019 State of the State address

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gives the State of the State address in the Chambers of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Monday at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

It is such an honor to be with you today. I’d like to take a moment to recognize the honored guests with us:

Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell, statewide elected officials, President Pro Temp Greg Treat, Speaker Charles McCall, Speaker Pro Temp Harold Wright, members of the 57th Legislature, cabinet members, Chief Justice Noma Gurich and members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, tribal leaders, friends, guests, my beloved First Lady – Sarah, my six children, my parents, and the most important audience – my fellow Oklahomans.

I stand before you today to offer a vision for Oklahoma’s future that gives purpose and direction for how our new administration will lead the state. My vision for Oklahoma is very clear and simple: to make Oklahoma Top Ten. My purpose is to work with you to deliver a turnaround that ensures a better future for all four million Oklahomans. I believe it is a purpose we all share in this room today.

Before we get into the details of my very first budget, I want to discuss how we position Oklahoma well for a “turnaround” by defining the term and the expectations for this vision.

Oklahoma’s “turnaround” is when our state stops moving in the direction of decline and begins moving in the direction we want to go: to be Top Ten in the nation. To get there, it will require three steps:

First – We must bring together people from across the state, with various backgrounds, skills and talents, to serve in critical leadership roles.

Second – We must set measurable goals and put metrics in place so every state employee, agency leader, member of my administration, and each of you in our Legislature can be part of one team with one vision.

Third – We must hold ourselves responsible for delivering results and reimagine the possibilities. I’ve said it before, Oklahoma’s challenges are no different than any other state – and Oklahoma’s opportunities, I believe, are the best in the nation.

Going through this process will put Oklahoma on the path to be Top Ten. And if anyone thinks that becoming Top Ten is just a campaign slogan, let me tell you, this turnaround is already underway with individuals who are delivering Top Ten outcomes in their own classrooms, communities, and industries.

Consider Donna Gradel – An environmental teacher in Broken Arrow Public Schools. Two weeks ago, she was named one of the Top Four teachers in the nation. Donna reimagined the classroom. She moved beyond the textbook by taking her classroom outside to partner with the city of Broken Arrow to clean public water and by taking the classroom to the world by developing a system to provide sustainable food sources to orphans in Kenya.

Donna, thank you for being here today.

Consider the Gathering Place – USA Today named it the number one place in America to visit in 2019. It is an example of public-private partnership. Where 55 acres stretched across the Tulsa riverfront, the George Kaiser Family Foundation reimagined a free park that is bringing together all ages, races, and categories of people to enjoy Tulsa.

Consider the Oklahoma Youth Expo Community. In the early 2000s, this youth livestock show was struggling to survive, but donors, Oklahoma families, and the Legislature came together, assessed their resources, and reimagined the program. Today, OYE is not just the #1 junior livestock show in America, it is the largest in the world. Today, OYE garners young participants from all 77 counties, awards hundreds of thousands of dollars in education scholarships and has shown a $22 million economic impact on Oklahoma City.

These are just a few examples of Oklahomans who brought together a team, set measurable goals, reimagined the possibilities, and executed on their vision to deliver Top Ten results.

Today, as I present my first budget, I ask you to join me in reimagining. Today, as we consider the state of our state, Oklahomans are presented with revenue growth of potentially $600 million, a 3.6 percent unemployment rate, rising wages and a spirit of optimism.

This is because of Oklahomans who are working hard, taking risks, opening new businesses, and creating jobs. The government does not create wealth, only the private sector can. In my administration, every policy decision will promote a healthy economy.

I want to also recognize President Pro Temp Greg Treat and Speaker Charles McCall who provided committed leadership over the past few years to make hard decisions to demonstrate our state’s support of core services that Oklahomans and job creators rely on. As I promised on the campaign trail, I brought them into our process of reimagining the budget.

As I outline my administration’s priorities this year, I want to make it clear: as elected officials, we will not always agree on the specifics of every policy – and that’s ok. We are each elected for different reasons and because of specific issues.

But you will always find my office willing to work with you and to be open-minded on policy differences, because what unites us in this room is that we are committed to reimagining how we can do state government better and deliver a brighter future for Oklahomans.

First, let’s reimagine state government. Our state Constitution vests supreme executive power in the Office of the Governor, but too often that executive power has been delegated by statute to boards that are not directly accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma. State government today is much larger than it was 112 years ago. As a result, accountability for those in power is spread too thin and, at times, it seems as of no one is really in charge.

The Health Department’s crisis in 2017 taught us this lesson, and the Legislature wisely restructured the agency’s board into an advisory role and gave the executive branch the authority to fire and hire a new leader. Let’s not wait for another crisis to start making this necessary reform across our largest agencies.

Oklahomans want three things: accountability, transparency, and results. I know the legislature wants it too.

Both Senate and House leadership are committed to addressing the structure of our state’s largest agencies so that government is held more accountable to the people. By granting the governor hiring authority, you will know exactly where the buck stops – at my desk.

But reform should not stop here. We will also seek to remove board members across state government when they have conflicts of interest. And we will look to sunset and consolidate boards and commissions where there is overlap and duplication. This is common sense reform.

My budget will prioritize funding to continue performance audits of the top 12 agencies. We will fund this effort by immediately recalling the $30 million that was given to the Health Department after the agency misrepresented their financial standing to the Legislature.

We will also reimagine state government so that our customers – Oklahoma taxpayers – are the primary focus. This is why I have placed a special emphasis in my administration on the digital transformation of state agencies. Today, I am calling for the Legislature to fund a $20 million grant program where agencies can apply to receive funds to bring their services into the 21st Century and to make government more customer-centered and efficient.

Imagine digital driver licenses that are Real ID compliant. Imagine titles available electronically. Imagine one site to obtain occupational licenses and one site to pay taxes. It is time to get it done.

It is time to improve our government’s “D+” ranking in digital transparency and for the state government’s checkbook to be online, up to date, and easy to navigate. It is time for an online dashboard where you can monitor my administration’s progress on performance metrics we will set for delivering state services.

Turning our attention to education, my administration is committed to public education and understands that the large majority of our students attend public schools. Over the next few years, we will move the needle in outcomes. We will set high standards. We will enact reforms. We will invest in the classroom.

But we must first continue our investment in the teacher, because it’s not programs, curriculum, or resources that students will remember. The magic happens between the student and the teacher in the classroom.

We are confronted with a nationwide teacher shortage. This is not a problem unique to our state, but Oklahoma was among the hardest hit. With recent revenue growth, I ask the Legislature to bring our teachers to number one in our region in pay and benefits. This amounts to a $1,200 increase per teacher.

I am also calling for the Legislature to funds a bonus recruitment program, up to $5 million, to encourage certified teachers to stay in Oklahoma after graduating college, to return to the classroom after a hiatus, or to move to Oklahoma for the first time.

I applaud Representative Rhonda Baker’s collaboration to get this effort underway, and I appreciate House Minority Leader Emily Virgin and her caucus for their support of a continued pay increase for our teachers.

We must also standardize the certification test for Oklahoma’s teachers, get rid of the five-year renewal fee, and reduce unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy on high-performing schools and instead shift resources to help schools who need it the most.

But these reforms and continued investment from the state will not be enough to make Oklahoma’s education system competitive. We must do the hard work of reimagining education.

Consider Cecilia Robinson-Woods, the Superintendent of the Millwood School District in Oklahoma City. After assessing the resources and unique challenges of her district, Cecilia reimagined ways to recruit and retain talent in her classrooms. It was important that teachers were not just skilled in their profession, but that they also were passionate leaders who could shape the culture of their schools and district. Cecilia partnered with Teach for America, utilized opportunities offered under state law, and implemented a new reading program. Today, the Millwood School District has seen dramatic, positive progress in outcomes.

Cecilia, thank you for being here today.

We must also look at ways to better stabilize the funding of public education. The fact that Texas is preparing to pass a teacher pay increase – at a cost of $3.7 billion – compels us to review and reform our state’s funding formula and to take the handcuffs off local communities wanting to compete, recruit, and retain the very best teachers. We must chart a bold course that allows for communities to do more for their students without being penalized with the loss of state support.

State government cannot fix education’s funding needs alone. We must stand arm-in-arm with communities, cities, and counties. Oklahoma is stronger when we are all working together.

The process of reforming the formula demands a reimagining of school districts so we can ensure not just equal funding per student, but also equal opportunity. This will take time to study what other states are doing, what is working, and what challenges we must address that are unique to Oklahoma. I am committed to being a continuous learner in this area and a leader in the discussion.

We must not forget that education should be first and foremost about our students, not about systems. I will sign into law any legislation that seeks to break down the silos between common education, career techs, and higher education so that we can better align the education experience for Oklahoma’s children and prepare them for tomorrow’s workforce of machinists, computer programmers, engineers, and more.

Next, let us take a moment to reimagine our state’s criminal justice system. We are number one in the nation for incarceration. To move the needle, it will require us to change the way we see the person who is in a cycle of incarceration for non-violent crimes. 

Many years ago, I was introduced to Melinda who held the titles of daughter, mom, and fellow Oklahoman – but to the prison system, she was a drug offender. When I met her, she was looking for hope, for a better life for her son, and for an opportunity to change course.

Today, she has been an employee at Gateway for more than 13 years. Her entry into the workforce was key to remaining sober and to becoming a thriving individual in our society. Melinda’s story of redemption was possible because of a community of people who stepped in, walked with her, and gave her opportunity.

Melinda, you are why I believe in second chances. Thank you for being here today.

There can be more stories of redemption like hers. It is why my budget requests:

$1.5 million to Women in Recovery, a public-private partnership to help women identify the roots of their addictions and develop life skills, and $10 million to the County Community Safety Investment Fund, a criminal justice reform initiative the people of Oklahoma approved with SQ 781.

But money is not the sole action government must take. I am encouraged by legislation in the House to accomplish licensing reform for those with a felony. We must give Oklahomans re-entering society more opportunities to be gainfully employed and we must give employers more discretion on who they can hire.

We must also remember the people who work hard every day to keep our correctional facilities clean, safe, and operating. They are on the front lines of delivering core government services, and as revenue continues to improve, I urge us to consider ways we can better improve their work conditions and compensation.

In my budget, we will also use revenue growth to address two critical healthcare programs in Oklahoma: The Graduate Medical Expense Program to train doctors, a cost of $62 million, and the Children Health Insurance Program, a cost of $14.8 million.

These programs remind us why we must be judicious and thoughtful about seeking federal funds. In Fiscal Year 2020, these two programs alone will cost the State of Oklahoma $77 million that the federal government once paid – a 6.8 percent increase to the healthcare authority’s budget. When Washington, D.C. wants to end a program, we are left holding the bag and covering the cost.

While Medicaid expansion currently stops at a 90 percent federal match, we cannot assume that it will remain this high forever. The estimated $150 million price tag today for Oklahoma to expand Medicaid could leave us down the road fronting more than $1 billion when the federal government pulls back on its commitment. They’ve done it before and they will do it again.

Medicaid is the fastest-growing expense in our state budget, and before we commit our state to accepting even more Medicaid dollars, Oklahomans deserve accountability and transparency with our state’s management of the Healthcare Authority.

Oklahoma is the only state in the nation where the governor does not have the authority to provide oversight of this agency. We are sticking out like a sore thumb, and this must change.

Healthcare is also preventative, promoting wellness through education, personal responsibility, and raising awareness. Today, I am announcing my partnership with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon to hold a Governor’s Relay Challenge, and I invite you to join me! I’ll be forming my own team to compete in the relay, and the team that wins will join me for lunch at the Governor’s Mansion later this year.

Let’s now move to the economy. In order to make our efforts in state government sustainable, we must first grow Oklahoma. We need more taxpayers, not more taxes.

We will reimagine our economy by diversifying our marketplace, strengthening our workforce, and encouraging Oklahomans to start new businesses. Our rules must be clear, our regulations must make sense, and our tax code must remain competitive with our neighbors.

At the Department of Commerce, I have hired the very best talent in the state to lead this critical agency, and they have set measurable goals and are running hard to tell the world Oklahoma is open for business.

To best equip the agency’s mission, I ask the Legislature to support additional funds for the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund. Since its inception, the state has granted $11 million in total awards which attracted high paying jobs with the Macy’s large distribution center in Owasso, with Boeing’s relocation of the Aircraft Modernization and Sustainment business unit, and with the Commercial Metals Company in Durant and many more.

Today, the balance of Oklahoma’s Quick Action Closing Fund is $4.3 million. By comparison, the latest legislative report for the Texas Enterprise Fund indicates the state has awarded $609 million from its Quick Action Closing Fund, resulting in 94,347 jobs. In Arkansas, their fund has awarded over $120 million, resulting in 26,684 jobs.

You can help me sign on the dotted line for new opportunities to grow Oklahoma and demonstrate to the nation that Oklahoma is not afraid to compete with our neighbors and that we intend to win!

As we close our time together, let’s end by reimagining our state budget. I promised Oklahomans that we would get to the bottom of every tax dollar and I promised to be transparent and open about the budget process.

For the first time in recent history, the governor’s budget provides you with every tax dollar we could find across the 12 largest agencies, which are spending 90 percent of the state’s total budget. It is important we talk in total dollars. This was the one consistent request I heard from Oklahomans across the campaign trail.

In this budget packet, I have also included agencies’ current performance goals. As we move forward together this year, my administration will be working with agencies to hire the best people, raise accountability, and deliver measurable results.

My vision for the budget is for it to become a meaningful resource each year, to establish a common language for lawmakers and taxpayers and create a transparent budget process.

Now, as we dig into the numbers, instead of across the board increases in FY’20, my budget addresses more than $230 million in obligations and another $151 million in critical needs.

My budget also casts a bold goal for our state’s savings account, I have said often why I believe the state needs $2 billion in savings.

When we look at states where the economy depends on the price of oil, they place a strong emphasis on saving during the good years. One thing we know is true, oil prices are going to go up and oil prices are going to go down.

When energy prices tumble, it directly impacts the state’s Sales Tax collection, the state’s Income Tax collection, the Gross Production Tax, and various other revenue streams. We must be honest with ourselves and recognize that last year’s tax increases made us more dependent on the price of oil. We must be good fiscal stewards of this decision by creating more stability through savings.

At the end of FY’19, our Rainy-Day Fund will have approximately $874 million with no additional support from a stabilization fund often seen in oil-rich states. Meanwhile, Texas has $12.5 billion in total savings to weather another economic downturn. North Dakota’s total savings is more than $5.8 billion.

This is why I am setting a goal for Oklahoma to have $1 billion in our savings by the end of FY’20. To get there, we must set aside an additional $250 million from revenue growth.

Being conservative with our budget surplus today will protect Oklahoma from having to cut core services in the future.

As I close, let us remember, the future doesn’t just happen. We make it happen. As public servants, our responsibility and purpose are to ensure a better future for all four million Oklahomans. This will require us to be good listeners, continuous learners, committed communicators, and bold leaders – both inside the building and around the state.

Our vision is to make Oklahoma Top Ten.

Join me! As we work together, we will move our whole state forward.

God bless you and God bless the State of Oklahoma!