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Stitt hits some goals 100 days in as Oklahoma governor

State agency reform and reducing Oklahoma's nation-leading incarceration rate are some of the campaign pledges Gov. Kevin Stitt has made the most progress on during his first 100 days in office, while other campaign pledges — such as becoming top 10 in education — remain unfulfilled.

Tuesday marks Stitt’s 100th day as governor, an early benchmark of his political tenure that is the equivalent of one game played in a 16-game football season.

A significant chunk of Stitt’s first 100 days in office was consumed with picking his team of cabinet secretaries, agency heads and office staffers.

“The team that I’ve put together, the amount of outsiders brought to my cabinet is really a game changer,” said Stitt, a Republican. “We’re putting together a four-year goal, a one-year goal and quarterly goals.”

Democrats are cautiously optimistic about four or more years of Stitt, but they’re also waiting for him to deliver on some of his major campaign promises.

“In terms of actual policy achievements, I think it’s safe to say that we’re pretty disappointed that we haven’t taken care of things yet like education funding and health care and a lot of other things he talked about on the campaign trail,” said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman.

Virgin said she hopes Stitt is able to deliver on more of his campaign promises in the remaining month in the legislative session.

On the campaign trail, Stitt promised to boost teacher pay, bring Oklahoma into the top 10 states for education, reduce the state’s high incarceration rate and avoid new taxes, among other things.

After 100 days in office, here's a look at where some of his biggest campaign promises stand:

Teacher pay

Promise: Make Oklahoma the highest-paying state for teachers within a six-state region

“We’ve got to start valuing those teachers," Stitt said. "We’ve got to raise the level of professionalism and we’ve got to let them know how important they are to the state.”

For Stitt, that starts with boosting teacher pay this year — an idea that has garnered mixed reactions from educators. Some have said Stitt’s push to boost teacher pay immediately after teachers saw a $6,100 average pay bump last year ignores their calls for increased classroom funding.

Status: Stitt’s executive budget calls for $70 million to provide a $1,200 teacher pay raise. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have expressed support for a teacher pay raise, but have also said they will see a boost in education funding. Those details are being worked out behind the scenes in budget negotiations.

Criminal justice reform

Promise: Reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rate

On the campaign trail, Stitt vowed to reduce the state’s incarceration rate, which is the worst in the nation.

“Let us take a moment to re-imagine our state’s criminal justice system," Stitt said. "We are No. 1 in the nation for incarceration. To move the needle, it will require us to change the way we see the person who is in a cycle of incarceration for nonviolent crimes.”

Stitt has taken steps toward that goal, but criminal justice reform advocates are calling for more. And whether the governor takes leaps toward criminal justice reform this year could be dependent on budget negotiations and the bills Oklahoma lawmakers send to his desk.

Status: Stitt’s executive budget calls for $12 million in additional state funding for prison diversion programs and to expedite pardon and parole requests from some inmates.

Stitt also named three reform advocates to the state’s five-person Pardon and Parole Board. Shortly after their appointments, the newly reconfigured board swiftly granted parole to a slew of nonviolent offenders, which could be a sign of changes to come.

Stitt also requested $150,000 in his budget to hire two additional staffers at the board to accelerate pardon and parole requests.

Taxes

Promise: No new taxes

On the campaign trail, Stitt promised to shun any tax increase proposal.

“I am not for any new taxes," Stitt said. "We first have to get reform. There's two sides to an income statement and some people just bang on revenue, revenue, revenue. In business we look at revenue and we look at expenses, but the last thing I’m going to do is pour more water into a bucket if there's holes in it, I have to plug the holes first.”

Status: Since becoming governor, Stitt has not supported any tax increases nor has he signed into law any tax hikes. The GOP-controlled Legislature also hasn't appeared eager to propose tax increases.

Agency reform

Promise: Increase executive power over state agencies

Stitt called for increased gubernatorial oversight of state agencies in an effort to make the agencies more accountable to voters.

“Our state constitution vests supreme executive power in the office of the governor, but too often that executive power has been delegated by statute to boards that are not directly accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma," Stitt said. "State government today is much larger than it was 112 years ago. As a result, accountability for those in power is spread too thin and, at times, it seems as of no one is really in charge."

Status: On March 14, Stitt signed into law legislation that drastically changed the amount of power Oklahoma governors have to hire and fire certain agency heads, taking the first steps toward moving away from the state’s weak governorship model.

He now has the authority to hire and fire the heads of the Department of Transportation, the Department of Corrections, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Government transparency

Promise: Audit agencies and increase oversight

During the campaign, Stitt signed the Oklahoma Taxpayer pledge put out by Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!, which was backed by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. Part of the pledge calls for audits of the state’s 20 largest agencies every four years.

“We need more accountability in government, regular audits of all state agencies and line-item budgeting," Stitt said.

Status: Stitt has already started auditing state agencies, in keeping with his campaign promise to boost government transparency.

So far, he has called for audits of the state’s Medicaid enrollment, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and the Health Care Authority.

Stitt aims to expand on the work of the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, which was formed by lawmakers in 2017 to audit a slew of state agencies.

Stitt also has adopted a new approach to state budgeting by talking about the budget in total state expenditures, instead of simply referencing the money the Legislature has the authority to direct.

Education

Promise: Make Oklahoma a top 10 state in education

Stitt has repeatedly expressed a desire to improve Oklahoma’s education systems, but much of the progress this year will depend on budget talks. In Stitt’s executive budget, he called for a $95 million boost in common education funding this year. Both the Oklahoma Education Association and the Department of Education requested more in new education spending.

"We want to make sure everybody across the nation knows that education is a priority in Oklahoma," Stitt said. "We are going to make Oklahoma a top 10 state in education."

This may be the hardest goal Stitt set for himself during the campaign considering Oklahoma falls in the bottom 10 states in many education rankings.

Oklahoma ranks 47th in the nation for education, according to Education Week’s annual rankings of a variety of education quality indicators.

Status: A copy of Stitt’s strategic plan shows the governor has a first term goal of restructuring Oklahoma’s education system and becoming nationally ranked in the top 30 states for education.

The two-page strategic plan obtained by Oklahoma Watch differs from Stitt’s campaign message of catapulting Oklahoma into the top 10 states for education.

Meeting this goal will likely require steady progress to boost education funding and education outcomes every year of Stitt’s governorship.

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt laughs with Rep. Jon Echols before he signs the HB 2597 at the Blue Room at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt laughs with Rep. Jon Echols before he signs the HB 2597 at the Blue Room at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-875620c97c844ebe75ddcd27a9dad07f.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt laughs with Rep. Jon Echols before he signs the HB 2597 at the Blue Room at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt laughs with Rep. Jon Echols before he signs the HB 2597 at the Blue Room at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt laughs with Rep. Jon Echols before he signs the HB 2597 at the Blue Room at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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