Senate panel advances Stitt's budget secretary
A state Senate panel on Monday approved Gov. Kevin Stitt’s pick for budget secretary after tensions flared in a prior confirmation hearing in a power struggle between the Senate and the governor’s office.
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved Stitt’s confirmation of Budget Secretary Mike Mazzei.
In Wednesday's confirmation hearing, some senators expressed concerns that Stitt’s administration was preventing lawmakers from obtaining information from state agencies. Mazzei, who if confirmed would become an integral part of Stitt’s team, came under fire by extension.
With tempers boiling over, Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, recessed the committee until Monday — with Mazzei's confirmation in limbo in the interim.
Last week, some senators were under the impression that state agencies were told to check in with Stitt’s office before providing budget information to lawmakers. The senators railed against the practice in Mazzei’s confirmation hearing.
The senators got that impression because of an email exchange between Sen. Greg McCourtney, R-Ada, and Melody Anthony, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s chief operating officer, in response to a request for information from the agency.
The email, in which Anthony said she was unable to answer McCourtney’s questions and that she had to keep the governor’s office abreast of all information requests from the Legislature, did not represent the wishes of the Stitt administration, Mazzei said Monday.
He also called it a faulty interpretation of the Legislature passing and Stitt signing a series of agency accountability measures earlier this year
Stitt and the Legislature recently agreed to expand the governor’s power to include the ability to hire and fire directors at five major state agencies. Those agencies are: Office of Juvenile Affairs, Department of Transportation, Department of Corrections, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the health care authority.
“I can state unequivocally there has never been a request that agencies withhold information from the Legislature,” Mazzei said. “It is my understanding that once this was brought to our attention, any misunderstanding with the agency was addressed and the request was dissolved.”
Stitt’s office also said last week that it was not trying to block the flow of information to lawmakers.
Mazzei, a former state lawmaker, said the Stitt administration thinks legislative oversight of state agencies is crucial and that’s why lawmakers have the power to call for agency audits, hold public hearings with agency employees and get public records from various agencies.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee seemed satisfied with Mazzei’s explanation and approved his confirmation on a 20-0 vote.
Mazzei, of Tulsa, is a former Republican state senator who served as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee for most of his 12-year legislative tenure. He is a certified financial planner and president of Tulsa Wealth Advisors.
Mazzei's confirmation now heads to the full Senate for approval.