The Oklahoma legislature adjourned on Friday, passing about half the number of bills they usually do in a session due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed 16 bills last year, but this year vetoed 19 – 10 of which the legislature overrode. Five of the vetoed bills were authored by House Speaker Charles McCall, (R-Atoka). Those bills passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support.
Before the legislature went sine die on Friday, the legislature overrode six of the vetoes. Included in those were two bills dealing with rural broadband, a bill on matching funds for state universities and a bill that revises the process for renewing car tags online. Both the governor and legislative leadership issued statements there were no hard feelings over the vetoes and overrides. Three thoughts:
First, the governor and the legislature need to get on the same page. In Oklahoma, the governor proposes legislature and the legislature deposes it. A lot of taxpayer dollars and time could have been saved if lawmakers and Stitt would have gotten on the same page. Clearly, collaboration needs to improve. In a state governed exclusively by Republicans, it’s not a sign of governing efficiency when the Republican chief executive is vetoing the GOP Speaker of the House’s bills. Cooperation, communication and collaboration needs to improve.
Second, COVID-19 dramatically impacted this legislative session. The number of bills passed was down. In-person committee meetings and personal interactions were non-existent. Couple that with the governor’s attention on the pandemic, and you have a communication breakdown. Some in the legislature believe that is why the communication between the lawmakers and he governor wasn’t as it should have been. That may be true, but if COVID-19 is a long term challenge, all parties better step up their communication game.
Third, the legislature and the governor got the constitutional mandated business done under difficult circumstances. The legislature met less than 40 days in 2020 – one third less than normal. COVID-19 disrupted businesses, threatened health and impacted tax revenue. The state’s rainy day fund was tapped to fill holes, but there wasn’t enough to plug all holes and cuts were necessary.
Sadly, once again, “targeted cuts” to state agencies was not done. It was one-size-fits-all cuts to all state agencies again. While across the board cuts are easier, it is not the right way. Comprehensive performance audits of every entity that gets a dime of state tax dollars should be conducted and zero based budgeting should be implemented. Agencies should justify every penny of tax payer dollars they receive. Across the board cuts reward agencies who are bloated and inefficient and penalize agencies who are lean and efficient. With the US economy on hold and a timeline to recovery uncertain, government needs to become more efficient and more streamlined. Retailers are closing stores and moving to a digital online sales model, government should watch and learn.
In these troubling times, stay safe, lean on God’s unchanging hand and pray this pandemic will soon pass.