State Democrats want $700M meant for Panasonic incentive deal to help Oklahomans now

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Panasonic announced Wednesday that it will build a new electric vehicle battery plant in Kansas instead of Oklahoma.

So, what’s next for the $700 million incentive package set up to attract Panasonic? The state wants to target the next company, but some lawmakers say Oklahomans could use the money now.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said she wants that money to be spent on Oklahomans directly, specifically on education and inflation relief.

“We can take that back into the general revenue now,” Virgin said. “And if another opportunity arises in the future, we can have that conversation. But there’s absolutely no reason to have that money sitting there.”

Virgin said the state can now move past the Panasonic deal and, instead, increase teacher pay and cut taxes in a way that will address high inflation.

“This is not money that should be going into yet another savings account,” Virgin said. “There are Oklahoma taxpayer dollars, and we should absolutely be using them in the wisest way possible instead of stashing them away.”

The Oklahoma State Department of Commerce has a different position. The agency wants to keep that money for its original use, saying that they continue to “work with Project Ocean and are optimistic for additional opportunities with them in the future.”

“I’d like to thank the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. (Kevin) Stitt for the bipartisan passage of the LEAD Act, which provides us with a vehicle to attract large companies,” Executive Director Brent Kisling said.

“That’s a really hard sell to Oklahomans who really need this relief right now,” Virgin said. “It’s a hard sell to say we should keep that $700 million just sitting there waiting for a company to maybe take advantage of it.”