Stitt plans budget veto, calls for cut in food taxes

Gov. Kevin Stitt announces at a Thursday news conference his intention to veto part of the state budget proposed by lawmakers. (Photo by Janice Francis-Smith)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt said Thursday he would veto parts of the state budget, saying he was left out of the process and insisting lawmakers give Oklahomans a tax cut on food products. The governor called a special session for lawmakers to make the changes he requested.

Stitt said it’s time for the state legislature to reconsider how the budget is designed to provide more transparency. His representative was excluded from budget discussions, Stitt said, and the first time he saw the budget was on the evening of May 16, when it was released. Lawmakers had barely a day to review the budget before being asked to vote on it.

“Why is this happening behind closed doors? Why are only a select few in charge while the rest of us are supposed to nod and don’t even ask questions? Stitt asked.

Stitt said he would veto tax refund lawmakers intended to relieve inflation, which would have sent Oklahomans a check in December for $75 for a single person or $150 for married couples. The initiative is estimated to cost the state $181 million — money Stitt said would be wasted.

“It’s not even a gas tank,” Stitt said. Stitt also plans to veto a provision that would have reduced state taxes on vehicle purchases, a measure that would only benefit the few families in Oklahoma who are financially able to buy a new car. right now, Stitt said.

The budget also removed a line item that would have provided $360,000 for printing attorney general notices, which is no longer required by law, and a pay raise for private prison workers.

The vetoes should free up enough money for the state to deliver the grocery tax cut promised at the start of the session as part of a balanced budget, Stitt said. The grocery tax cut is estimated to save the average Oklahoma family $360 a year.

Stitt also called for another personal income tax cut, which would provide Oklahomans with an additional $93 for the year.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she’s thrilled the governor has come to enact the things Democrats have been advocating for years — eliminating the groceries tax and making the more transparent state budgeting process.

State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, who is involved in the budget process, released a statement via social media saying the governor had contributed to the discussions by submitting his executive budget at the start of the February legislative session.

“It is the job of the legislature to then consider the requests of the governor, as well as all the agencies, and make appropriations,” Hilbert wrote. “Constitutionally, the executive does not write the budget, it is the legislature that does it. Did the governor get everything he wanted in this budget? No. Neither the House nor the Senate.

Lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol on Friday to close the last day of the regular session. They have the ability to override some of the governor’s vetoes at that time, if they wish.

A majority in the Legislature has already agreed to call a special session to spend $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds that the Stitt administration has delayed distributing. Stitt said he wanted to think about how best to use the money.

Stitt said he welcomes the Legislative Assembly’s efforts to bring more transparency to the process, adding that he would be happy to release documentation related to the process. The state is currently embroiled in legal proceedings for withholding the documents at the request of news organizations Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier.

The special session requested by Stitt begins on June 13.