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Democratic lawmakers frustrated, not surprised to be left out of budget talks by the Republicans

Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, left, and Minority Leader-elect Julia Kirt, right, have a quiet conversation before the start of Governor Stitt’s “Goodbye Grocery Tax” press conference on Feb. 27, 2024, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Lionel Ramos
/
KOSU
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, left, and Minority Leader-elect Julia Kirt, right, have a quiet conversation before the start of Governor Stitt’s “Goodbye Grocery Tax” press conference on Feb. 27, 2024, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Senate minority leader-elect Julia Kirt said Tuesday that Democrats being left out of important budget discussions is nothing new.

“The governor calling people into a meeting felt, I guess, special,” Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, said during an interview in her office.“Democrats aren’t at the table. Women aren’t at the table. But we aren’t surprised by that. Because that’s what happens up here, and we see it every day.”

By table, Kirt was referring to the proverbial one, that would give her minority caucus – and their constituents – some influence over what the final state budget would look like. She also means the literal one that Stitt convened with House Republican leadership, which is completely composed of white males.

Still, while they aren’t at the figurative nor literal conference table, Democrats do have some say on budget matters behind the scenes, during committee meetings and on their chamber floor.

House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, said House Democrats have long been concerned about not having a formal position in budget discussions.

“Regardless of who is in the minority, I believe it is important that there is a place for the minority caucus to have a voice to elevate our priorities,” Munson said. “And overall, just our own concern, we all ran for office, because we wanted to improve our state, we wanted to find solutions to the problems that we see in our districts.”

Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City.
Lionel Ramos
/
KOSU
Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City.

Both Democratic leaders said focusing on the needs of Oklahomans is what Republicans Should be focusing on, not cutting more revenue.

Kirt and Munson both mentioned ensuring well-qualified teachers are well-compensated in public schools, addressing mental health issues and closing childcare gaps for people in the workforce.

While there have been more than a dozen agreements made on budget line items, Gov. Kevin Stitt has started and ended every one of the budget meetings he’s organized with mention of an income tax cut.

Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, teamed up on Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, Monday to try and pressure him to say he’d put the cut up for a vote. Treat refused.

Kirt said that by calling the meeting and inviting the media, Stitt has “branded” what were supposed to be substantial, transparent budget talks as being all about a flat-rate income tax, and eventual cuts until the rate is eliminated.

Transparency around the budget process has been Treat’s stated focus all session long. He’s insisted on every budget decision being made in the open.“Any agreements made behind closed doors are not agreements,” Treat said at the first budget meeting, as he set expectations he had for the conversations.

Munson said she appreciates Treat’s commitment to transparency and the new process the Senate has engaged in to make it so, but that it should have started sooner to avoid rushing and obscuring the process all over again.

“I'm losing confidence that we will be able to have a budget voted ready to go and voted on by sine die,” she said. “Sine die” refers to the last constitutional day of the legislative session, May 31.

Kirt said, that although there have been recent exceptions, most years Republicans decide the budget before the end of legislative session as they should.

“I'm only in my sixth session. But what I've seen is that they'll create it if they have to work all night, they usually get it done,” Kirt said. “Now, whether it’s going to be thoroughly vetted and we're not throwing things in there that are unnecessary, that’s one of the challenges of a last-minute deal.

“You’ll end up with a $10 million item that only a few people understand.”

Copyright 2024 KOSU

Lionel Ramos