United States $100 bills randomly laid out in a pile.

Oklahoma governor wants taxpayers to decide how to spend surplus

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Merrilee Gasser

(The Center Square) - Oklahoma is in a financial position to manage any significant economic disruptions with millions in savings, Governor Kevin Stitt said Friday. The question is how the state will spend over $1 billion in surplus.

Speaking to reporters during his weekly press conference, Stitt said he wanted to consider what Oklahoman taxpayers would like to see done with their money. The state currently has $4.5 billion in savings, he said.

“Do Oklahoma people want us to take that billion dollars and save it and go to $5.5 billion? We could do that,” Stitt said. “As a businessman though, we need about $3.5 billion in savings to weather any kind of economic downturn historically. The main thing I want to do is make sure we protect core services, so we never have to cut core services. If we’ve got that taken care of, then what do we do?”

When asked about House Bill 1955, which received a do pass recommendation from the House Appropriations and Budget Committee Thursday and would eliminate the state’s portion of the grocery tax, Stitt said he hadn’t looked at the specific bill. But he agreed his “general philosophy” is he’d like to do away with the grocery tax.

“I just think it’s very reasonable. It’s a regressive tax. To remove the state portion, if McCall’s bill does that, I think it’s the right thing to do,” the governor said.

Stitt said there were other ideas floating around about what the state should do with its billion-dollar surplus, including strategic investments like the House Republicans’ education plan that includes increasing public school funding by $500 million. The governor said he thought it was a good idea.

“Or let’s give something back to the taxpayer,” said Stitt. “The grocery tax is a great idea. I called for a 0.75 percent reduction in income tax. I want to keep the momentum going that we are a very business-friendly state.”

Several bills in the Legislature would lower the income tax rate if passed. Two received do pass recommendations from the House Appropriations and Budget Committee Thursday.

Stitt said he didn’t want to use the money to grow the state government.

“We need to slow the growth of government. I don’t want to just continue to raise base level of expenses and then when we do have, if there is an economic downturn, all of a sudden, we’ve raised our expenses to a high water level that then we have to cut something, and that would be, that’s bad. That’s what was happening before I got into office,” Stitt said.