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Opinion: What awaits in year three of Stitt administration?

Year three of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration begins officially Monday with the start of the 2021 legislative session. Stitt has to hope this year goes more smoothly than 2020.

The governor enjoyed many successes during the 2019 session and hoped to build on those last year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent energy prices through the floor during the final months of the session, resulted in a budget hole and cuts to most state agencies. That’s never pleasant.

And, 2020 saw Stitt and fellow Republicans bang heads frequently, after they had gotten along so well the year before. The budget provided the most vivid example. The Legislature came up with a $7.8 billion plan that Stitt vetoed for, among other things, a liberal use of one-time funds. The budget “does not reflect the values of Oklahoma,” Stitt said. In no time, the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the veto.

Stitt and the GOP leaders of the House and Senate also have sparred in court over gaming compacts the governor reached with some Indian tribes. The leaders said the governor overstepped his authority, and their two legal challenges proved successful.

This session begins with a budget estimate of $8.5 billion in state revenue for the next fiscal year, which, if it holds up, would be about 8% more than was available to legislators for the current fiscal year.

After release of the revenue estimate in December, Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, noted that obligations for next year would be about $400 million to $500 million above this year, and he was hopeful a flat budget would be possible. One new expenditure upcoming is the state’s share of the cost to expand Medicaid, which has been estimated at $164 million but could be higher.

Federal COVID relief funds helped Oklahoma get through last year. More of those may be on the way, and the hope is that a bit more normalcy will return as vaccinations are distributed. Even so, Stitt said last month, “the Legislature will still have difficult decisions to make regarding the budget …”

Producing a balanced budget is the Legislature’s primary job. Meantime, throughout the four-month session, lawmakers owe it to their constituents to avoid the sort of ideologically driven pursuits that are all too common every year.

They also owe it to Oklahomans to conduct serious work. In what he says is intended to promote tourism in his area, one House member from southeastern Oklahoma wants the state wildlife department establish a hunting season for … Bigfoot.

“I want to be really clear that we are not going to kill Bigfoot,” he told The Oklahoman’s Ed Godfrey. “We are going to trap a live Bigfoot. We are not promoting killing Bigfoot. We are promoting hunting Bigfoot, trying to find evidence of Bigfoot.”

The less time spent on such frivolity, the better.

Owen Canfield III

Owen Canfield has written editorials for The Oklahoman since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 19 years with The Associated Press in Oklahoma City. He is a 1981 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Lori, have four children. Read more ›