Stitt urges state agencies to cut their budgets

  • State agency budget changes

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Republican Governor Kevin Stitt said Tuesday he wants a one to two percent budget cut for all state agencies along with the use of reserve funds for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year and for the 2021 fiscal year.

Speaking at a press conference at the state’s strategic national stockpile center, Stitt hinted that the lack of a cut was the reason a scheduled Board of Equalization meeting had been cancelled.

He said he wants to protect core state services but added that Oklahomans were struggling. He said it was prudent to ask state government to cut expenses by one or two percent.

“We are working with the House and Senate right now,” Stitt said. “We have a budget shortfall. We’re in the middle of negotiations about how much of the savings to use. Asking state agencies to cut expenses by one or two percent seems very reasonable to me.”

On Monday, state lawmakers returned to the Capitol after Stitt issued a new executive order that declared a health emergency for all 77 counties and called the Legislature into special session.

During the session, the Legislature endorsed Stitt’s call to activate the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act and passed several pieces of legislation that would allocate about $500 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

However, before the Board of Equalization could meeting, the meeting was postponed. Without a declaration of revenue failure by the board, the legislature can’t tap the reserve fund.

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said the bills passed on Monday would make sure there were no budget cuts to state agencies for the 2020 fiscal year. “We had business to take care of for the good of the state, and we did not hesitate to complete it. We are keeping government functional,” he said.

Tuesday, Stitt said only one state agency was asked to take a budget cut. “When there was just one agency singled out to be cut, that was part of our reasoning,” he said. “All options are on the table (but) until we have a Board of Equalization meeting, we can’t grab that $300 million out of our savings account.”

Stitt also said he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ that hospitalizations for the Covid-19 virus had started to flatten. He urged any Oklahoman who had symptoms of the Covid-19 virus to get tested and to continue to practice social distancing.

“What we do together over the next three weeks will significantly impact what we do after April 30,” he said. “Oklahomans are doing a good job,” he said. “The tracking curves more like Oregon. It’s really exciting but we have to take this seriously. We cannot get lax.”

With the virus’ spread and an on-going oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, state unemployment claims have skyrocketed. Stitt said the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission had been fielding more than 10,000 calls per day.

Four weeks ago, officials said, the agency was processing about 1,500 to 2,000 claims per week. Today that number stands at about 135,000.

Gino DeMarco, charged by Stitt to secure medical supplies for hospitals and first responders, said the state had purchased millions of dollars of personal protective equipment from all over the world.

“It’s ready to go out as needed,” he said.

DeMarco said facilities that needed equipment should contact their county Emergency Management office to request additional supplies.