COVID-19 has taken a toll on Oklahoma’s economy and put a massive hole in the state budget that must be addressed by lawmakers in the coming legislative session.
Wednesday, Republican and Democrat leaders from both the state House and Senate participated in the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce legislative forum.
Topics ranged from Medicaid expansion, expanding broadband, changing the initiative petition process and a $1.3 billion budget hole caused by COVID-19.
“Coming back, the budget will be a challenge, but it would be a much greater challenge if the state’s economy had not stayed open,” Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R- Atoka, said. “We hope the vaccine will help give our economy that bounce back to that historical high that we were experiencing before COVID-19.”
“Our caucus is going to be focused on, in a tough budget year, making sure we don’t cut those core services that people are depending on now more than ever,” House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said.
With rumors swirling about a special session next month, lawmakers must also fund a $168 million Medicaid expansion.
The legislative leaders were also asked about their relationship with Governor Kevin Stitt.
“The relationship hasn’t changed at all. I don’t know why the questions being asked. I don’t know the impetus,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R- Edmond, said jokingly.
The last legislative session ended in May with fighting and later lawsuits between Stitt and the legislature.
“Last year, because of the pandemic, there was a lot of diminished communication,” McCall said.