Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma State Capitol

The legislature’s override action allows the four bills to become law over the governor’s objections.

Republican Lawton Rep. Trey Caldwell said the governor’s actions would lead to a $370 million cut to the common education system. All of Comanche County’s legislative delegation supported the override.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Just hours after Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed Oklahoma’s $7.7 billion FY21 budget, a feisty Oklahoma Legislature overwhelmingly overrode the governor’s vetoes.

Stitt announced Wednesday afternoon that he vetoed four budget measures, including Senate Bill 1922, the general appropriations bill. Stitt also vetoed House Bills 2741, 2742 and 2743. Stitt said he vetoed the main budget bill – SB 1922 – because it was created “without meaningful input or consultation from the executive branch.”

“This proposed budget does not reflect the values of Oklahoma or the clear directive voters gave elected officials at the ballot box of living within our means and making hard decisions when times get tough,” the governor said in a media statement. “Instead, Senate Bill 1922 reflects misguided policies that conservative Republicans have spent the past decade reversing. It is propped up with one- time funds that will not be available for Fiscal Year 2022.” Stitt said he vetoed the other measures because those bills would take away tens of millions of dollars from teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters and hamper infrastructure improvement efforts.

“While I understand the importance of a balanced budget, it is fiscally irresponsible to do so at the expense of the solvency of these pension systems,” the governor said. Stitt said the budget would put the state into a financial corner and leave very few options in FY 2022. “We will either have to raise taxes or implement draconian cuts,” he said. Shortly after Stitt’s announcement, the state Senate voted 35-11 to override the governor’s veto Only two Republicans in the Senate – Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, and Nathan Dahm, R-Tulsa, voted no. The legislature’s override action allows the four bills to become law over the governor’s objections. In the House, lawmakers overrode the veto of HB 2741, which redirects funds earmarked for the teachers’ retirement system and allocates them to the education system, with a vote of 94 to 4. 

State Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, the House budget chairman, said Stitt’s veto message was “filled with inaccuracies.” He said the governor’s veto of the budget bills would spark major cuts to state agencies, including the common education system. “Today is not the time to be making cuts,” Wal- lace, R-Wellston, said. “I’m not going to sit back and let it happen. This is a good bill. It’s a good budget.” He said the teachers’ retirement system is in the best shape it has ever been and that lawmakers were only redirecting some of the additional money earmarked for the system.

“We are not robbing from the pensions,” Wallace said. Republican Lawton Rep. Trey Caldwell said the governor’s actions would lead to a $370 million cut to the common education system. All of Comanche County’s legislative delegation supported the override. The actions have underscored the tension between Stitt and his colleagues in the Republican-controlled legislature. After a dustup earlier this month, legislative leaders pushed back against the governor’s plan to direct the allocation of more than $800 million in federal Covid-19 relief funds. Following Stitt’s announcement that he would veto at least two of the appropriations bills, legislative leaders announced their plan Wednesday afternoon. In a joint statement House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat left no doubt that lawmakers would not allow the governor’s vetoes to stand.

"Since the governor refused to do so, legislators will rise to the moment to enact a balanced budget for the people of Oklahoma that protects education from deep cuts without harming the transportation or public retirement systems,” the pair said. “The deep education funding cuts the governor’s vetoes cause are unnecessary and unacceptable, as is his false rhetoric about the bills’ effect on the transportation and retirement systems.”

House Democrats, for their part, endorsed the override actions. House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said Republican lawmakers had spent a large portion of last year’s legislative session giving the governor more power and spent this year’s session trying to protect the legislature from an overzealous executive branch instead of taking back those increased powers.

“We are doing this while the governor sits on $800 million in federal stimulus money,” Virgin said. “Now, Governor Stitt is quick to point out that the money can’t be used on anything but things that have been impacted by COVID-19. However, after looking at our state revenue figures, looking at stores shuttered across the state, Oklahoma’s workforce reeling from unemployment and furloughs, we wonder ‘what exactly hasn’t been affected by COVID-19?’”