OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and other statewide elected officials took their oaths of office on Monday ahead of a legislative session in which lawmakers are expected to consider cutting taxes amid record revenue collections.
Stitt, a wealthy mortgage company owner and political newcomer when he was first elected in 2018, easily won reelection in November to a second, four-year term, defeating Democrat Joy Hofmeister by more than 13 percentage points. He took the oath of office with his wife, Sarah, by his side and several of his six children in the front row.
Also sworn in Monday by Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice John Kane IV were Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell; Attorney General Gentner Drummond; Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn; Treasurer Todd Russ; Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready; Auditor and Inspector Cyndi Byrd; Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters; and Corporation Commissioner Kim David.
During a 20-minute speech after his swearing-in, the governor touted his accomplishments over the last four years, including opening the state for business soon after the coronavirus pandemic and working to reduce the state’s prison population, which was among the highest per capita in the nation when he took office four years ago.
Stitt said the Legislature’s decision to give the governor more authority over state agencies was particularly helpful in improving operations within the Department of Corrections, where Stitt was able to appoint a new executive director.
“As a result, we closed four prisons, safely reduced the number of inmates by over 5,000; we gave our frontline professionals a much-needed pay raise; and we saved the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars,” Stitt said.
Even as he boasted of a record state savings account of more than $3 billion, Stitt emphasized his desire to reduce the size of state agencies and push for flat budgets.
“We have bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., who think the only solution to improving the plight of our fellow Americans is more government,” Stitt said. “But government is not the solution to our problems. Most of the time, government is the problem.”
Stitt is expected to present his proposed budget and deliver more policy details in his fifth State of the State speech to the Oklahoma Legislature when it convenes Feb. 6. In that speech, the Republican governor will likely urge lawmakers to approve cuts to the state sales tax on groceries and the individual and corporate income tax rates that he has called for in recent years.
Stitt also is expected to push again for a school voucher program that would allow state funds to be used for tuition at private schools, including religious schools. That issue has proven a thorny one in the Legislature, with a similar proposal failing to pass the state Senate amid bipartisan opposition. The plan is even more unpopular in the House, where many rural lawmakers contend it would siphon funding away from public schools there.