Gov. Stitt Promises To Keep Education Funding Steady Amid Ongoing Gaming Dispute
Governor Kevin Stitt told lawmakers in his State of the State address, he has a way to save education funding caught in the middle of the tribal gaming dispute.
He asked lawmakers to pass a bill allowing him to use the revenue stabilization fund, a state savings account, and remaining cash from 2019 to help fund education while he and tribes fight the gaming dispute in federal court.
“I am calling for the legislature to join me in protecting public education,” Stitt said.
“Governor, you should have thought about that when you picked an unwinnable fight over the summer,” House minority Leader Rep, Emily Virgin (D-Norman) said in the Democratic response. “You knew this money went to education; you knew that you were going to be putting it into jeopardy.”
This month the tribes will pay the state its first exclusivity fees since Stitt declared class 3 gaming illegal January 1.
Stitt said he would like the state to use the funds he laid out in his address instead of accepting the monthly payment money. Many said accepting the tribal money would show Stitt has lost the battle.
Democrats said the legislature should accept the payment.
“I would call on my legislative colleagues to not let the governor have this unilateral power, to say no,” Virgin said. “W build the budget, we do appropriations, we are going to accept that money and end the fight.”
88% of tribal gaming fees go to education, more than $130 million per year.
The tribes said they will make the payments whether the state accepts them or not.
"It is unfortunate to see Governor Stitt tie himself and the state budget in knots as he continues his refusal to acknowledge the plain terms of the agreement the state offered tribes 15 years ago,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said. “We stand with Oklahoma teachers and are proud of our contribution to Oklahoma common education."
“I also remain confident the state and Oklahoma’s tribes can hammer out a compromise that’s a win-win,” Stitt said.
“I don’t think the governor has a legal leg to stand on,” Virgin said.