Oklahoma Democrats Reject Gov. Stitt Education Funding Plan Amid Tribal Gaming Dispute

Posted on: February 5, 2020, 08:03h. 

Last updated on: February 5, 2020, 11:00h.

Oklahoma Democrats are firing back at Governor Kevin Stitt’s (R) plan to continue funding public education during his ongoing battle with the state’s Native American casino operators.

Oklahoma Democrats tribal compact
Gov. Kevin Stitt wants to use rainy day money to fund public education, an effort Oklahoma Democrats oppose. (Image: Michael Duncan/NonDoc)

During his State of the State address this week, Stitt called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow him to use $100 million in state reserves. The action would be active while the dispute over whether the tribes should be required to share more of their gambling revenue is contested in federal court.

While we wait for the federal court’s decision, I am calling for the Legislature to join me in protecting public education. I am asking for legislation that will allow the remaining cash balance from 2019 and funds from the Revenue Stabilization Fund to be leveraged, if needed, to compensate for any temporary pause in Class III gaming fees,” Stitt explained.

The Republican governor, who himself is a member of the powerful Cherokee Nation, believes the state’s more than 30 tribal Class III gaming compacts expired January 1.

OK Dems Say No

Oklahoma’s tribal casinos presently share between four and six percent of their slot win with the state, the final rate dependent on their overall gross gaming revenue (GGR) generated by the machines. The tribes additionally give 10 percent of their table game win to Oklahoma City.

Stitt says the Class III gaming compacts expired after 15 years on January 1. The Native Americans argue the contracts automatically renewed. Stitt wants the tribes to negotiate new terms, and has set a minimum 25 percent of their slot haul as his starting point.

Oklahoma Democrats say Stitt is fighting a battle he has no legal grounds on which to stand. And they believe he should have found a better way to continue funding public education without using state reserves.

“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 to his State of the State. “You knew this money went to education; you knew that you were going to be putting it into jeopardy.”

Tribes say they will continue sending their gaming payments to the capital. But Stitt plans to reject the checks until the legal challenge is resolved.

“We have gotten to the point with discussions with the tribes that we never meant to get to,” Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) said. “This has gone way too far.”

Money at Stake

Oklahoma collected $138.59 million last year from tribal gaming revenue shares. Of the tax money, 88 percent is earmarked for the state’s Education Reform Revolving Fund.

While there are more than 30 tribes in the Sooner State operating Class III gaming, a handful of Native American groups are responsible for the lion’s share of GGR.

FY2018 Gaming Share

  • Chickasaw Nation: $47.87 million
  • Choctaw Nation: $26.27 million
  • Cherokee Nation: $16.51 million
  • Muscogee Nation: $9.7 million
  • Osage Nation: $5.88 million

Between 2005-2018, the tribes were responsible for more than $1.22 billion in public education funding. They’ve also contributed more than $167.4 million to the state’s General Revenue Fund, and $3.35 million to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.