State of the State

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt addresses the Oklahoma House and Senate at the State of the State at the Capitol in Oklahoma City on Monday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World

Gov. Kevin Stitt used Monday’s State of the State address to roll out a platform that includes state government consolidation, more attention to public schools and expansion of the state’s Medicaid program to include thousands of working poor adults.

He also called for cutting out the heart of the state’s merit protection system for state employees and reform to the state school aid formula.

In short, there were things there to like, and things to dislike.

One of the more interesting items we saw in his speech was the promise of a functioning health information exchange, which would share patients’ medical information without endangering anyone’s privacy. Oklahomans should be able to travel the state with the certainty that their medical information can go with them securely.

We are more skeptical of the governor’s attack on the merit protection system. Stitt wants to make all future state employees at-will employees and give agency directors broad discretion about who they can hire and promote. Merit protection was designed to make sure state jobs are distributed on the basis of qualifications, not favoritism or politics. We’re not saying that there may not be ways to improve the system, but Stitt’s proposal essentially blows it up, destroying the good with the bad.

The governor is right when he calls for reforms to the state’s primary means of underwriting public schools, the state aid formula. His endorsement of portability of teacher credentials across state borders also makes sense.

We were unpersuaded with the governor’s backing of a plan to divert tax revenue to private schools, what amounts to a voucher system by other means.

We appreciated that he called on the state to end years of pointless opposition to Medicaid expansion, but fail to see any advantage to his decision to fund the program through a block grant, which leaves the state financially exposed. We also oppose his plans to add illegal work requirements and out-of-pocket charges on Medicaid coverage.

Noticeably missing from his program were substantial steps forward in criminal justice reform.

We’re not sure about some of Stitt’s ideas, and some of them are just plain wrong, but we appreciate the overall optimistic, pragmatic tone of his State of the State speech, and think it could be a starting point for a better state.

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