Stitt's office, House, Senate to get funding boosts
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office would receive a $2 million funding boost, more than doubling the budget of the governor’s office, under the proposed state budget Stitt and legislative leaders unveiled Wednesday.
The additional funding represents a 121% increase in the governor’s office budget, which was $1.7 million last year.
The state House and Senate also would receive additional funding under the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget that is awaiting final legislative approval.
The House is slated to get an additional $7.3 million on top of the $12.5 million the chamber received in the current budget cycle. The Senate would get an additional $2.2 million on top of the $9.2 million it received this fiscal year.
Legislative Democrats this week criticized the funding boost for the governor’s office as far above funding increases for other, similar-sized entities that receive state funding.
The additional governor’s office funding will largely go to pay Stitt's cabinet secretaries, about half of whom are not currently being paid, said Stitt spokeswoman Donelle Harder. The governor also wants to reimburse travel costs for members of his cabinet and staff, who are not being reimbursed for their travel mileage, she said.
Stitt also wants to be more transparent about how the governor’s office is being funded, Harder said. Former Gov. Mary Fallin would pull funding out of various agency budgets and Stitt doesn’t want to do that, she said.
Because of Fallin’s unique governor’s office budgeting, Stitt’s office is currently operating on a budget rate that is the lowest it has been in more than three decades, Harder said. And because revolving funds for the governor’s office were nearly depleted by the previous administration, Stitt’s administration also needs the additional funding to furnish the second-floor governor’s offices after renovations are complete on that part of the Capitol later this year, Harder said.
“The governor is prepared to demonstrate a performance for the hard-earned tax dollars that are going to be given to his office,” she said. “He understands that at first, it may be hard to explain, but Oklahomans are going to see results. If they don’t, they have every right to complain.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said if Stitt wanted to be transparent, he would tell lawmakers exactly how it plans to use the additional funding.
Stitt did not mention the funding bump for his office when he, alongside legislative leaders, announced they had reached a budget deal at a Wednesday news conference. Democratic lawmakers noticed the increased funding when they received detailed budget documents on Wednesday and Thursday.
“It does concern me that our priorities are misplaced when the previous gubernatorial administration seemed to get by just fine with the budget they were given,” Virgin said. “I don’t know why this administration needs so much more in terms of pay for personnel.”
Additional funding for the Senate will be used to update the chamber’s technology, including computers, software and hardware, said Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat. Ideally, the technology upgrade will allow the Senate to archive video from committee hearings and floor sessions, he said.
The House currently archives some of its video, but the Senate does not.
The House plans to use the additional funding to hire more legislative staffers and boost staff salaries to be closer to that of the Senate’s, said Rep. Kevin Wallace, chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
The Senate, which has 48 members, currently has 47 full-time legislative staffers. Comparatively, the House, which has 101 members, has 40 full-time staffers, Wallace said.