(Correction: This story and its headline were updated at 12:48 p.m. Monday, May 13, to note Mike Mazzei’s nomination must still be confirmed by the full Senate. NonDoc regrets the error.)
Five days after a fiery encounter between himself and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah), the nomination of former Sen. Mike Mazzei as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s secretary of budget advanced this morning.
Thompson reconvened a meeting around 10:30 a.m. today that recessed Wednesday when he and Mazzei had sparred verbally over Senate concerns that state agency leaders may have been told not to provide budget data to lawmakers without first checking with the Stitt administration.
“It has been my personal experience that that is true,” Thompson said Wednesday. “They cannot talk to me about the budget. I heard that from the secretaries themselves. I’m now hearing from my members that they cannot talk directly with agencies about their budgets, unless they have the governor’s staff approval.”
Mazzei countered at the time, but Monday morning he opened the reconvened meeting by reading a lengthy statement that described a commitment to lawmakers accessing fiscal information from state agencies.
“The Stitt administration wants to make it clear that all state legislators deserve and should have easy access to state agencies to exercise their constitutional duties to provide oversight,” Mazzei said, referencing the Legislature’s ability to call for audits and hold public hearings. “Equally important is the ability for senators and representatives to exercise their oversight in a timely and expeditious manner so that they can make informed decisions at all times.”
Mazzei said an email from Oklahoma Health Care Authority administration had upset senators and “did not represent the wishes of the Stitt administration and was a wrong interpretation of recent changes in the state law.”
“I can state unequivocally that there has never been a request for an agency to withhold information from the Legislature,” Mazzei said.
Mazzei’s confirmation moves to the full Senate after committee members approved him unanimously, 20-0. He and senators did not mention their previous confrontation further, instead answering questions about his and Stitt’s beliefs about health care, revenue and other policy areas.
Stitt, however, had addressed the issue of budgetary information access on Thursday.
“What we won’t allow is to go straight to our cabinet secretaries in the middle of budget negotiations when they are trying to maybe advocate for some pet projects that they are working on individually,” Stitt told reporters.
Mazzei ‘not familiar’ with all of Stitt’s campaign statements
Sen. J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso) attempted to catch Mazzei in a moment of revisionist history, with the budget secretary nominee having just praised lawmakers for doing “an enormous amount of hard work” in passing last year’s historic revenue package.
Dossett responded by asking Mazzei if Stitt had supported or said he would veto the revenue package. Mazzei said he was “not familiar” with everything Stitt said during his campaign, though Stitt said in April 2018 that he would not have signed the bill.
Thompson asked Dossett to keep his questions directed toward the nominee and not the governor, so Dossett asked whether Mazzei himself had been supportive of HB 1010XX and whether he would support future revenue measures.
Mazzei avoided discussing his opinion of HB 1010XX and said when it comes to future revenue-raising measures, “I don’t think that’s necessary at this time.”
Dossett appeared to be asking Mazzei about an op-ed piece he authored for the Tulsa World in 2017 that opposed raising taxes to address the state’s budget woes. In 2018, Mazzei also wrote an op-ed critical of the revenue bill that had passed.
But during debate on Mazzei’s confirmation Monday, Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) pulled back the caucus curtain and told of GOP discussions in 2014 on the topic of the incentive rate for the gross production tax on oil and gas.
“We had some very, very heated debates in caucus and in the chamber on the gross production tax,” Simpson said. “Sen. Mazzei and I were the only two green votes in the Senate (Republican Caucus) to raise gross production tax, which was the very thing we did last year.
“That tells me Sen. Mazzei’s thinking was ahead of schedule.”
Earlier Monday, State Treasurer Randy McDaniel announced that “gross receipts” to the State Treasury had set a record for April.