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Oklahoma budget
Gov. Kevin Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) announce that they agree in principle on a budget deal Monday, May 13, 2019. (Tres Savage)
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The Oklahoma House of Representatives and Gov. Kevin Stitt agree on a FY 2020 budget, Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall said this afternoon during a press conference that did not feature members of the State Senate.

Stitt spoke first, saying negotiations between the three parties had been within $1-2 million until last week when Senate leadership publicly unveiled a new set of education funding numbers and frustrated Stitt and House members.

“Unfortunately this past week proved to be pretty difficult when Senate leadership decided to announce a different budget publicly, which they shared with the House and myself,” Stitt said. “The disagreement is that I think they’ve walked away from the budget table, and we haven’t got agreement on a bunch of these items, I guess. They introduced some things last week, took down some of our priorities and increased others. So that’s why we wanted to roll out ours today.”

Speaking to media in his office minutes after Stitt and McCall’s press conference, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) pushed back on the governor’s assessment.

“We have never once insinuated that we were walking away from the table,” Treat said. “All we did was enunciate the Senate priority.”

That priority involves putting $130 million into the state’s common education funding formula beyond any across-the-board teacher pay raise. To achieve that goal while meeting McCall and Stitt’s desire for a $70 million teacher pay raise, Treat told media Thursday that he believed his chamber had a budget plan that could be approved by all parties.

“We think we can deliver on [Stitt’s] priorities. We think we can deliver on Speaker McCall’s priorities, and we think we can represent the Senate’s priorities overall with this plan,” Treat said Monday.

Stitt: ‘We felt we needed to be transparent with where we are’

McCall (R-Atoka) and Stitt clearly disagreed, holding their unusual press conference with more than 70 Republican members of the House.

“I met with the Pro Temp today and let him know what I was going to do, but really the reason we are sitting here is (…) the House and the governor’s office felt we needed to be transparent with where we are,” Stitt said.

Moments before Stitt spoke, Deputy Secretary of State Donelle Harder handed out a front-and-back sheet of paper (embedded below) that Stitt said was intended “to let you know what our budget priorities are.”

During his press conference, Treat said he had not seen the document. He said he tried to present the Senate’s new plan to the governor’s office last week to no avail.

“We requested a meeting on Thursday that wasn’t granted. We did give our numbers to the House on Thursday,” Treat said. “We have enunciated now publicly just as the other two have. (…) I will share my opinion directly with the governor. So ‘Don’t negotiate through the press,’ but I saw some negotiation through the press (in their event today).”

Treat said Stitt had been invited to Senate Republican Caucus at 4 p.m. Monday.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) released the following budget outline Monday, May 13, 2019. (Tres Savage)

Public employee pay raise?

McCall (R-Atoka) specifically referenced his and Stitt’s desire to fund a public employee pay raise, which he said was not included in the Senate’s negotiations last week. The sheet Stitt’s office handed out listed “funded prioritization for an additional state employee pay raise.”

House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) said Monday that the House prefers a $2,500-per-person raise for state employees that would cost about $92 million. Wallace also said he had agreed Friday, May 3, to a state employee pay package of roughly half that amount, which he said was supported by the governor.

“That has always been part of the discussion,” McCall said

Treat disagreed.

“We have never had that in our budget,” Treat said. “We have always talked about merit and doing something on merit.”

Wallace fired back.

“Treat may very well say he’s never supported a public employee pay raise,” Wallace said. “But Thompson has been in charge of budget negotiations, not Treat.”

‘Section G’ still a battle

Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC)

Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) appeared with Treat at the Senate presser Monday. He emphasized the Senate’s belief that mandating a teacher pay raise for all districts — whether they receive state funding from the equalization formula or not — causes problems for rural districts, something Thompson said senators saw with last year’s historic raise.

“If you’re off the formula and Section G remains in, you get zero money for the raise but you’re mandated to give the raises,” Thompson said. “So we just asked those off the formula last year to do across-the-board $6,100 pay raise without additional funding into the formula.”

Wallace said the “Section G” component of the pay raise legislation is critical to ensure raises for teachers that work for other state agencies. He said the Senate’s proposal leaves out those non-traditional educators.

“The numbers that I received on Thursday showed no teacher pay raise for Career Tech, Department of Corrections, Office of Juvenile Affairs or the School for the Deaf or School for the Blind,” Wallace said. “That’s why Section G is important. It’s a mandate that every teacher gets a pay raise.”

Concerning the Department of Corrections, Treat said the Senate is committed to providing prison workers a pay raise. He also emphasized a belief that a true three-party deal is close.

“Just like a calm before the storm, there are normally rough waters before the agreement out here,” Treat said.

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