With the help of a rebounding economy and soaring revenues from a package of tax increases approved after a long interparty tussle with his predecessor, Stitt arrived on the scene with a $600 million budget surplus and a GOP-led Legislature eager to work with him on spending it.
Both the House and Senate adjourned Thursday afternoon, well ahead of the May 31 constitutional deadline.
The final agreement on the $8.3 billion budget , the state's largest ever, included an additional pay raise for teachers and an extra $200 million into the state's savings account, both priorities for the CEO-turned-governor. The governor himself got a 121% percent boost in his office's budget and secured an additional $2 million for repairs to the governor's mansion and millions more for a fund he can use to help lure businesses to the state.
"I think it's been a fantastic session," Stitt said. "I really feel happy with where we're at with the savings we got, protecting Oklahomans in the future from another tax increase or cuts to core services."
Stitt also expanded the governor's power to include the ability to appoint the directors of Oklahoma's largest state agencies, including the Department of Corrections, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation, and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Some Democrats criticized the session as failing to help the state's working poor, noting Stitt and GOP leaders refused to expand Medicaid, restore an earned income tax credit for poor people or approve a cost-of-living allowance for retired teachers and state workers.
"Low-income working Oklahomans were once again forgotten this session," said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank that advocates for the poor. "In a year where there was plenty of money to expand business incentive programs like the Quick Action Closing Fund and to allocate enormous increases for the governor's office and the Legislature, there was no excuse for turning a deaf ear to those struggling to get by and get ahead."
Stitt rejected that criticism, saying that Oklahoma's booming economy will lead to more jobs and better pay and that "all boats are going to rise."
"A working person has nothing to worry about," Stitt said. "We've got tremendous opportunities in our state, and I'm excited about the future."
Some teachers also grumbled openly about what they say were anti-public education bills, including measures to expand private school vouchers and discourage districts from adopting four-day school weeks.
"I know there are some teachers already recruiting candidates to run for certain districts," said Alberto Morejon, an eighth grade U.S. history teacher from Stillwater who launched a Facebook page that became an online meeting place for teachers and parents during last spring's teacher walkout , which shuttered schools across the state for two weeks.
"We'll have time to collect all of their voting records and make graphics and share with these communities about how these people voted on all these public education bills. We're just getting started."
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