Tax cuts and education reform were among the items on the menu for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s annual State of the State luncheon with the Tulsa Regional Chamber at the Cox Business Convention Center on Thursday.
Responding to questions prepared by the chamber, Stitt steered clear of controversy and left quickly after speaking, although he did pause for a couple of questions from reporters.
Outside, several dozen protesters made known their dissatisfaction with Stitt, principally on the issue of abortion rights. It was the first time in memory, and maybe ever, a governor’s address to the Tulsa Chamber has been picketed.
That issue didn’t come up inside, and neither did another frequent Stitt topic, the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision and tribal relations.
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Stitt softened his remarks on public education, which have sometimes been harsh as he tries to convince Oklahomans that the best way to improve public schools is by subsidizing private ones.
Asked about teacher recruitment and retention, Stitt said, “Think back to when we were in school and those teachers that made an impact on our lives. The magic happens when we have the best teachers in the classroom teaching young people.
“We have to pay market to attract the best and brightest, and we’ll continue to do that,” Stitt said, although there is dispute as to whether Oklahoma is, in fact, providing competitive compensation and teaching conditions.
Stitt said some teachers could earn up to $100,000 annually under legislation adopted this year — although, again, there is some disagreement about whether that will actually happen.
In any event, Stitt said, the point is that good teachers should not have to go into administration to earn top salaries.
Later, Stitt said common, career tech and higher education “have got to get with the business community and the jobs they need and fill that on the education side.”
“About 50(%) to 55% of our kids will go to college, and that’s great,” he said. “But with six kids of my own and all the different people in this room, we all know that God uniquely designs everybody differently. There are so many jobs and skills and careers and pathways they can go down.
“I think we’ve pigeonholed people into ‘You’ve got to go for a four-year degree.’ But man, I’m telling you: … The biggest boats on Grand Lake are not the doctors and lawyers. It’s the plumbing contractors, the roofers, the electrical contractors, the HVAC guys.”
Asked whether the state’s $2.8 billion in reserves might be tapped for inflation relief, Stitt repeated his call for repealing the state’s 4.5% sales tax on groceries and another 0.25 percentage point drop in the top state income tax rate.
Stitt was also asked about energy production, federal American Rescue Plan money, medical marijuana and mental health during his 30-minute appearance.
Whether or not Stitt saw the protestors lining the sidewalk along Fourth Street on the north side of the convention center is unclear.
One of them, Susan Braselton of Tulsa, said the group — mostly women — wanted to make their feelings clear.
“Stitt doesn’t care about women,” she said. “The damage he’s done to the citizens of Oklahoma is abhorrent.”
Another protestor, Alexandria Silvernail of Broken Arrow, said she considers herself a centrist, and she said the current social and political environment in the state is causing her and her husband “to get out of Oklahoma.”