OKLAHOMA CITY — When Gov. Kevin Stitt gives his fifth State of the State address on Monday, he will ask lawmakers to cut taxes and boost education funding.
The speech will mark a turning point as Stitt begins to outline his priorities for his second term, but some initiatives will sound familiar.
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The governor will ask the Oklahoma Legislature to earmark money for teacher pay raises, although he favors performance-based pay hikes over across-the-board raises for all teachers.
State Superintendent Ryan Walters is backing merit-based pay hikes, but support appears to be growing in the GOP-led Legislature for across-the-board pay raises. In an interview, Stitt said his administration is exploring the idea of offering teachers financial incentives to work in inner-city schools.
“Because we’ve been so fiscally disciplined, we’ve diversified our economy … we can strategically invest in certain things like this,” Stitt said.
A school choice proponent, Stitt is expected to make another push for school vouchers that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay for their child’s private or home school education.
Calling Oklahoma City and Tulsa Public Schools the worst districts in the state, Stitt said injecting greater competition into the education arena will make those districts better. If the state’s largest brick-and-mortar districts lose a percentage of their students to neighboring districts, private schools or charter schools, they will be forced to reinvent themselves and improve, he said.
“I think more schools is healthy for students, and I think more choice is healthy for parents,” Stitt said.
He’s also supportive of a legislative proposal to create a new fund that public, private or charter districts could tap into to create a new school. Pointing to Norman Public Schools’ new Aviation Academy, Stitt said the fund would spur innovation in education.
The governor also wants to fund Walters’ early childhood reading initiative to improve reading scores among the state’s youngest students.
Like last year, Stitt will push lawmakers to eliminate the state’s 4.5% sales tax on groceries. He estimates a family of four would save about $636 each year if the tax is eliminated.
But Stitt may face some pushback in the Legislature’s upper chamber where Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, appears keen on reducing personal incomes taxes in lieu of cutting the grocery tax.
Stitt said he supports cutting both personal income and corporate income taxes, which state leaders did two years ago.
“People are fleeing high-income-tax states,” he said. “I want to keep the momentum that Oklahoma is the most business-friendly state in the country.”
Stitt will also signal support for a legislative proposal from Treat to create a new fund to invest a portion of state savings and reserves. In turn, the investment earnings could create a new state revenue stream.
In the past four years, the state has amassed more than $3 billion in savings.
The governor is pushing hard for state lawmakers to legalize sports betting, which could change his tone toward Oklahoma’s Native American tribes that have the exclusive right to offer gambling in the state.
After facing millions of dollars in dark money campaign attacks as he ran for re-election last year, Stitt may use his speech as a chance to call for greater transparency in political spending.
The governor’s annual State of the State speech in the House chamber marks the start of the four-month legislative session.
Stitt will begin speaking around 12:45 p.m., and his address will be televised on OETA.