Monday, February 05, 2024

Governor Stitt delivers 2024 State of the State address

Governor Stitt Delivers 2024 State of the State Address

(Monday, February 05, 2024) Today, Governor Kevin Stitt delivered his State of the State address to Oklahoma’s 59th Legislature. Governor Stitt outlined his priorities for the 2024 regular legislative session, focusing on making Oklahoma the most business friendly state in the nation, limiting the growth of government by cutting taxes, expanding education freedom, and reinforcing public safety. 

You can read the transcript below, or watch the address via the YouTube video below (thanks to KOCO):

Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell. Mr. Speaker. Mr. President Pro Tem. Members of the 59th Legislature. Members of the Judiciary. Statewide elected officials. Thank you for being here. 

Tribal leaders. To my cabinet members – thank you for your service to the state.

To my wife Sarah, the greatest first lady in the country. To my children who are with me today.

And most importantly, my fellow Oklahomans.

First off, I want to give thanks to my Heavenly Father for allowing me to serve in this position and for all the blessings we have in this great state.

It’s my honor and privilege to stand before you today to give my sixth state of the state address. I’m sure some of you are excited about that because it means you only have to listen to me two more times.

As we begin a new session, I am happy to report that the state of our state is the strongest it’s ever been.

At the start of our sixth session together, I want to recognize Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell, President Pro Temp Greg Treat, and Speaker Charles McCall for the hard work they’ve put in over the last five years. Never in Oklahoma history have the same four elected officials served in our positions together for six full years. We haven’t always agreed, but we’ve accomplished a great deal working together for the people of Oklahoma. Thank you.

I also want to thank all of you in this room for the work you put in on behalf of your constituents. We can’t do any of this on our own. In 1 Corinthians 12:14, Paul talks about how the body of Christ has many different parts. He is referring to the Church, but those lessons apply here in this building as well.

We have to work together to move our state forward.

As we fight for the well-being of those who entrusted us with leadership, there will be challenges, but we can face those challenges head on with a vision of hope.

Hope comes from neighbors walking with neighbors, and churches and communities coming alongside those who are hurting.

We are blessed in Oklahoma to have people who bring hope to those who are in some of the most hopeless situations. I want to highlight Gail and Mike Priest. They are the founders of the 99+1 Foundation. They renovated an old nursing home into a home for young women aging out of foster care.

Their guiding scripture is Matthew 18:14 - “Even so, it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that ONE of these little ones should perish.”

They truly have a heart for the Lord and they are teaching young women that their future can be better than their present. The women they care for are some of the most at-risk for human trafficking.

It’s time for legislation that protects our most vulnerable populations from those who seek exploit them. Gail and Mike are here today, and we are so proud to have them in our state.

We know hope is not a speech or a government program. That’s why we started, to connect people in need to churches and nonprofits in their community.

Hope is a science that can be taught, and hope emerges when you can see a path forward.

I’m grateful to my wife Sarah who started Hope Rising Oklahoma. Because of her efforts to highlight and teach the science of hope, Oklahoma is the nation’s first hope-centered state, and we’re bringing this science to the rest of the country. Thank you, Sarah, for standing by me for the last 25 years and for being an inspiration to so many Oklahomans.

Hope comes from hard work, because we know that we are designed by our Creator to work to provide for our families and contribute to society. It comes from teaching our young people the future is bright and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

So what is our job as state leaders? To create more government programs? Or to get government out of the way?

Excessive government intervention encourages people to look to government programs instead of personal responsibility.

There’s a school of thought called the Success Sequence that outlines three steps to combatting poverty:

  1. Graduate high school;
  2. Get a job;
  3. Get married before having kids;

That’s it. Those three things are a surefire way to keep families out of poverty. That’s why we need strong families teaching values in Oklahoma.

We are living in the most fatherless generation in our history. In 1970, just 10% of kids were born out of wedlock. Today, the statistic is staggering – 40% of kids are born to single mothers.

Single mothers are five times more likely to be in poverty than two parent families. We know that the best preventer of poverty is a married mom and dad in the home. So we became the first state in the nation to declare Family Month this past November.

That’s the culture we’re promoting here in Oklahoma, and we know it works.

In 2019, I addressed this body for the very first time, and I laid out a vision to make Oklahoma top 10 in everything we do. I said, “The Oklahoma Turnaround starts right now.” And we are well on our way.

We have gotten government out of the way and allowed families and businesses to thrive. We’ve revolutionized our education system – creating more options for parents and students while investing more in our teachers and public education than ever before. We’ve cut excessive regulations and made it easier for businesses to navigate state government.

Since then, it has become even more clear to me: Government isn’t the answer.

In the last five years, we’ve had record revenue growth, the lowest unemployment, and record savings. We are top ten in Real GDP growth. We’re number 6 in lowest cost of living and number 8 in energy affordability. We have an energy advantage because we’re promoting our bedrock industries of oil and natural gas.

We’re pioneering new forms of energy and now we’re number 3 in wind energy production. We are securing the critical mineral supply chain right here in Oklahoma. And now, we are top ten in people moving to our state.

People are looking to Oklahoma as the example of a shining city on the hill.

I want each of you to take a moment and consider what is possible in Oklahoma in the next 20 years - the Oklahoma you want your children and grandchildren to live in.

Do we want a state that is stuck in a boom-to-bust cycle? Or do we want prosperity and growth like we’ve experienced over the last five years?

When I stop to think about Oklahoma in 20 years, here’s what I see: I see people from all over the country moving here so they can keep more of their hard earned money thanks to our 0% income tax. I see entrepreneurs flocking here. We’re the business headquarters capital of the world.

Because of our energy advantage, we are the manufacturing, the AI and the data center capital of the world.

Our schools, colleges and universities are teaching kids how to think not what to think. And students from all over the country are coming to Oklahoma to take part in the free flow of ideas. Our flagship universities have each grown to over 40,000 students and are the premier think tanks in their field.

I see Oklahomans who take seriously the commandment to care for the widow and orphan. A state where family values are foundational. A state where our communities are safe.

The Oklahoma Standard is alive and well and we are thriving as a state.

But we can’t let our success make us complacent and forget what made the Oklahoma Dream possible: free enterprise and individual liberties. Not more government programs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, now’s our time to shine.

If we are a top 10 state, all boats will rise – education, infrastructure, health outcomes, and quality of life. It’s not that complicated.  The economy is going to follow the path of least resistance. Our job is to make Oklahoma the state where it is the easiest to start and grow a business. Let’s talk about how to get there.

To accomplish our vision and create the most business friendly state where freedom and opportunity abound for every single person, a top 10 state for generations to come, we need to limit the growth of government – not put more burden on the taxpayers.

Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank came to visit Oklahoma a couple weeks ago as he explores places to make new investments. He says he would never invest in states like California and New York because of their overregulation and high taxes. Oklahoma has the business environment he is looking to tap into.

To be the best state for business and attract more top level CEOs, we need to keep pushing business friendly policies and reducing burdensome regulations.

I’m calling on the legislature to take a page out of Delaware and Texas’ playbook and set up a system of courts specifically designed to address business disputes. Businesses need assurance that disputes will be adjudicated by courts with expertise in business law.

Next, I’m calling on our local governments to join us in the effort to be the most business friendly state in the nation. If our local governments are levying huge permitting fees or delaying projects, it will chill investment and cause companies to look elsewhere.

We have to match our competition in Dallas, Kansas City, Denver and Houston to make Oklahoma the headquarters capital of the world. We’re going to keep inviting energy companies to come here and join the ranks of Devon, Williams, Continental, and Oneok. We want more retail giants like Hobby Lobby, Braum’s, and QuikTrip to call Oklahoma home.

We want to keep building our aerospace and defense industry, with companies like American Airlines, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. We want to secure the critical mineral supply chain and loosen China’s grip on these technologies.

And we can do that right here in our backyard. Blue Whale, Rare Earth USA and Stardust are setting up shop and are part of the critical mineral supply chain we need for our national defense. 

If we get our regulations right, with our low cost of energy, central location, and strong workforce, Oklahoma is the perfect place for new industries looking for a home. Each new industry is part of something great. In Oklahoma we feed the world, fuel the world, and defend freedoms around the world.

But let’s first make sure we have a sustainable government budget to solidify our prosperity for years to come.

Listen to this – New York has 19.8 million people, and their annual budget is $233 billion dollars a year. Florida, one of the fastest growing states, is bigger than New York with 22 million people. Their annual budget is half that, about $116 billion dollars a year. Florida doesn’t have an income tax. New York is at 10.9%.

If more government spending was the answer, Florida would be falling apart. The opposite is true. It’s states like New York and California that are facing a massive budget crisis.

Last year, I called on the legislature to cut the personal income tax from 4.75% to 3.99%. I’ve called three special sessions to try and give Oklahomans a pay raise.

Instead, our recurring expenses grew last year by over $1.14 billion dollars. And that doesn’t include one time expenses or ARPA funding.

With record savings and surpluses, I’m asking, “if not now, when?”

In the 1990’s, we were at 7% income tax. So I’m renewing my call. Let’s get Oklahoma back on the path to zero.

You’ve heard me say year after year, we don’t need more taxes, we need more taxpayers.

Two years ago, we cut a quarter point from the individual income tax and we lowered business tax by two full percentage points. Since then, revenue collections have increased by $1.5 billion dollars. That’s been the trend after every tax cut we’ve passed.

So I’ll sign any tax cut that comes to my desk.

Because as we have growth, it should be automatic to return excess to the taxpayers, not to seek out bigger government programs.

People are moving here every single day from states like California because they see opportunity and they see freedom and they see they can keep more of their hard earned money.

It’s not tax cuts that will get us in trouble, it’s the unrestricted growth of government. I’m calling for flat budgets across state government this year.

To be clear: I’m not advocating for cutting core services. What I am advocating for is a sustainable amount of growth where we are funding needs not wants.

Listen, there is never a shortage of new programs or someone pitching a good idea.

In politics, you are only criticized for saying no. It’s easy to feel like you’re leading when the wind is at your back and you’re always saying yes. But it’s our jobs as leaders to make the tough decisions now for future prosperity of Oklahoma.

A strong economy is essential to being the most business friendly state in the nation, but we also need an education system that meets our workforce needs.

Thanks to everyone in this room, we led the nation by passing the revolutionary Parental Choice Tax Credit last year. Now, students and parents have more options than ever. Because we know God gave kids to parents, not to the government.

Emily McDonald, an Edmond mom of three, sent her kids to their zip code school. Her oldest child is thriving in public school. Her second child, a boy with autism, faces struggles, but has gotten the support he needs there as well. But her youngest daughter came home from school crying everyday because of the way other students treated her as she stood up for her brother with autism.

Emily had recently lost her husband and was raising three children on her own. She saw her daughter starting to fall behind academically because of the bullying she was experiencing. On a single income, she didn’t know if she’d be able to afford to send her daughter to another school. The tax credit was in the works, so she took a leap of faith and enrolled her daughter in a private Christian school, praying that they would be approved for the tax credit.

I’m happy to report her daughter is thriving in her new school. In just half a school year, she has jumped three grade levels in reading. Emily is with us today.

There are so many reasons parents may choose a different school that isn’t their neighborhood school, and it’s our job to make sure they have that freedom.

Looking forward, let’s focus on opening the door to more workforce-oriented schools so that every kid in Oklahoma is college ready or career ready. Let’s empower community leaders to start new, innovative schools that are molded to the needs of our state and prepare our students for the future workforce. 

We want more schools that prepare kids for the workforce like Cristo Ray, Dove Science Academy, or the Norman Aviation Academy. These high schools focus on career training instead of only focusing on college readiness.

Norman Aviation Academy is a public school that gives students hands on experience in the aviation industry. Students can work towards their pilot license or technical certificates in aviation maintenance and leave high school with great jobs at one of the aviation companies here in Oklahoma.

Cristo Ray requires kids to intern at different companies one day a week to gain valuable work experience. Let’s have more of these schools and be number one in the nation for charter schools. Especially when they’re already proving they work!

Oklahoma is top ten in charter school performance. Not only that, Oklahoma ranks number one in the nation for smallest racial performance gap in charter schools. So why are there still barriers for charter schools to use vacant school buildings?

Let’s put some of these vacant school facilities to use and get more high performing charter schools up and running, especially in areas with failing public schools. More schools, more innovation, more freedom!

Send me legislation that paves the way for more charter schools and gives students more options.

Additionally, I want to empower our colleges and universities to be the best in the nation. To be the best, we need to shift our focus to outcome-based higher education models and stop subsidizing institutions with low enrollment and low graduation rates. Technology has transformed the way we do higher education, so we can’t keep relying on 20th century education models to bring our students into the future workforce.

Each college and university needs to focus on the subjects they are best at and become the premier institutions in their area. I want to see legislation that incentivizes models that fulfill our state’s workforce needs. I also want our regents to focus on consolidating colleges and universities that aren’t meeting this standard.

In Oklahoma, education freedom is for every single student at every single level.

We can be the best state for business and have the greatest universities, but if we don’t have safe communities, no one will want to live here.

I want to be clear: Oklahoma is a law and order state. We support our law enforcement. We punish criminals. We protect our citizens. I want to put criminals on notice: you are not welcome here and you will serve time. 

We believe in fair sentences, and we believe in second chances. We’ve worked hard here to make sure we are prosecuting crimes and rehabilitating those with substance abuse and mental health struggles, and we are focusing on eliminating barriers for those who have served their time.

With efforts like the Sarah Stitt Act and our drug court system, we are now #2 in lowest recidivism rates in the nation. Now, we need to focus on limiting fines, fees, and court costs to only what is needed for restitution.

We need to address civil asset forfeiture. It’s crazy to me that somebody can be pulled over and have their cash and truck taken for an alleged crime, get acquitted of that crime, but they still never get their property back. That isn’t fair and we need to make sure it isn’t happening anywhere in Oklahoma.

In 2022, I said we were going to focus on the state’s marijuana industry and get it back in line. At its peak, reports showed somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 licensed marijuana businesses, including many with links to criminal organizations from China, Mexico, and Russia.

Through enforcement actions by Donny Anderson at OBN and Adria Berry and the team at OMMA, Oklahoma has gone from having a reputation as “the Wild West of Weed” to now being viewed as having some of the most effective enforcement and regulatory oversight in the nation. Now, licenses are down 76%.

We have to keep bad actors, like the drug cartels, out of our state. That starts with securing our country’s southern border. I have been vocal about my support of Texas and Governor Abbott as they fight to secure our southern border and put pressure on the Biden administration to enforce our laws.

I will continue to offer the assistance of the Oklahoma National Guard because we know that when we don’t have a secure border, every state is a border state.

Let’s take a moment to recognize the service of those in our National Guard under the leadership of Major General Tommy Mancino. Many have answered the call of duty and deployed to the southern border in Texas, and to Kenya and Djibouti. We are proud of their bravery and commitment to serving our state and our country.

As I talk to people around the state, they tell me they want state government that works efficiently, treats them fairly and protects their fundamental rights.

Many Oklahomans I talk to want clarity about who has authority to do what in our state. That’s because today, our state is still dealing with the fallout from the McGirt decision. It’s a decision that has rocked our state and caused division where previously there was none.

But I know there is a path forward because of the success we’ve found negotiating compacts with the Chickasaw, the Apache, the Citizen Potawatomie, and the Wyandotte tribal governments over the past few weeks. But we still need clarity.

Three years ago, in my state of the state, I asked a few questions stemming from the Supreme Court’s decision. In 2021 I asked: Do tribal members living in eastern Oklahoma pay income tax? Today, there are tribal governments supporting a woman named Strobel in her lawsuit before the Oklahoma Supreme Court so she can be exempted from paying income taxes in Oklahoma.

In 2021 I asked who regulates agriculture? Water? Energy? Today, there are tribal governments trying to stand in the way of our state Department of Agriculture’s ability to issue necessary permits to farmers to work on their private land.

In 2021 I asked what is the State’s ability to enforce the laws? There are tribal governments who supported a man named Hooper as he fought against Tulsa Police’s authority to enforce traffic laws.

In 2021 I asked who had the authority to make arrests and prosecute people? Today, we are dealing with the fallout from the conflict at Okmulgee County Jail where, due to disagreements about who has authority over that part of the state, there was a standoff as a Creek tribal officer tried to arrest a county correctional officer in his own jail.

Three years after McGirt, we are still operating under a confusing and conflicting patchwork of jurisdiction across our state. It is imperative that we clarify our law enforcement relationships immediately. That’s why I created the One Oklahoma Task Force to come up with cross-deputization and jail agreements.

I hope that this task force can work to find a solution that protects the safety of all four million Oklahomans, regardless of their race or heritage, and I hope the tribes will choose to participate.

In 2021 I said, “It is critical – while embracing the tribal heritage of many Oklahomans – that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we are all Oklahomans.” 

We can’t be a state that operates with two different sets of rules. Especially based on race. Here’s the deal – things are different in Oklahoma than they are in places like Arizona. Arizona has the Navajo Reservation. And it’s true tribal members who live on the Navajo reservation don’t pay taxes to the state of Arizona.

But here’s what’s also true: The State of Arizona doesn’t build roads on the reservation. They don’t fund hospitals or public schools or airports on the reservation. They don’t send the Arizona Highway Patrol to enforce laws on the reservation.

There are tribal governments who want Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma to look like the Navajo Reservation. But Eastern Oklahoma is different than the Navajo Reservation. And we have better outcomes for our tribal populations across the board. 

We’ve operated as One Oklahoma since statehood, and it’s how we’re going to operate for as long as I’m Governor. I ask you to stand with me to protect one, unified Oklahoma. 

Before I wrap up, I want to challenge each of us to consider two things:

One – who are we allowing to influence the laws we make?

I love how Boone Pickens put it. When people tried to influence him, he would ask himself do they have a vested interest in what they’re trying to push?

Who are we letting influence us here in this building? Are special interests dominating? Or are the interests of all four million Oklahomans guiding our decisions?

And the second question is what legacy are we going to leave behind?

We need to be working for the next generation, not the next election. Are we leaving Oklahoma better than we found it? Are we willing to risk everything to do the right thing? Or will we risk the dream of Oklahoma’s future just for personal gain.

Ronald Reagan said this, “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

What are we doing today to protect this Oklahoma we love for our children and grandchildren? If that isn’t our sole focus, we are here for the wrong reasons. Governing should be about making the tough decisions, not what’s easy or convenient.

As I conclude, I want to declare: As for me and my state, we will serve the Lord! I’m calling on our businesses to serve God in the marketplace. Our churches to serve God and people in our communities. Our government officials to serve God by acting righteously and serving without partiality.

We’re making sure the next generation can live out their American Dream – their Oklahoma dream.

Let’s go.

May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the great state of Oklahoma.


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