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Oklahoma amid coronavirus: Gov. Kevin Stitt announces budget veto, COVID-19 updates in press conference

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Gov. Kevin Stitt at a press conference March 1, 2019, at the Oklahoma Capitol.

Gov. Kevin Stitt held a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss the state budget and efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, among other topics.

In the conference — streamed live on Stitt’s Facebook — the governor addressed updated data on COVID-19 cases, concerns about cuts in the state budget and what resources the state will offer to offset the economic consequences of COVID-19.

Oklahoma is ranked No. 8 in fewest new COVID-19 cases per capita, Stitt said, and the rate of infection in Oklahoma has dropped from 10 percent to 4.9 percent of cases tested. He also said 25,000 tests were administered last week, which is a 50 percent increase from the previous week. 

Stitt said Oklahoma has also increased COVID-19 saliva testing at nursing homes. Oklahoma has now tested 30 to 40 percent of the 308 nursing homes in Oklahoma, he said, and 43 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in Oklahoma were from nursing homes.

Stitt said the state has been sending personal protective equipment to every nursing home in Oklahoma, and his office is looking at reimbursement options for nursing homes to cover COVID-19-related expenses.

Stitt also announced there will be a new online platform for municipalities to apply for reimbursements from the federal CARES Act for COVID-19-related expenses. The platform will be available May 15.

Stitt said Tom Spencer, executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers' Retirement System (OTRS), informed him the financial portfolio of the OTRS was down $1 billion since June 2019. According to Stitt, the OTRS funding ratio decreased from 72.3 percent to 64 percent in the last year.

Stitt also announced he would be vetoing budget proposals HB2741 and HB2742. According to Stitt, the bills would take “tens of millions of dollars” away from OTRS to fund district costs, bringing the funding ratio down to 2014 levels. The bills would also draw from law enforcement pension funds and firefighter pension funds.

“I will not play a part in harming Oklahoma’s teachers,” Stitt said at the conference. “Raiding state pension funds to balance the budget is unfortunately nothing new in this building.”

Stitt said his administration was “cut out of the budget process” by state legislators. He disagreed with budget proposals to cut $16 million from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, $6 million from the Health Department “during the largest pandemic that our state has faced,” and 9 percent from the Department of Public Safety. The bill would also increase the attorney general’s budget by 12 percent.

“This has been a very disappointing and contentious session,” Stitt said at the conference. “I’m going to continue to expose what I think’s going on, and let Oklahomans know (about) the politics going on inside this building. It’s frustrating.”

Stitt said he has until Wednesday night to sign or veto budget bills.

“I have an obligation to protect our core services and to protect the taxpayers of Oklahoma,” Stitt said at the conference.

Beth Wallis is a senior journalism major and political science minor, and news managing editor for The Daily. Previously, she worked as a junior news reporter covering university research.

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