Legislative Report by Rep. Phil Barnhart

This biennium's budget was the primary focus at the Capitol.  I want to thank those who contributed to the discussion at the town hall last month or in other communications.  

To balance the $855 million budget shortfall for this biennium the Governor would have been required to make blanket cuts of over 5% unless the Legislature provided an alternative proposal by March 9th. With bipartisan support the Oregon Legislature did, with a few days to spare. 

When the current budget shortfall became apparent, many predicted that lives would be endangered because of cuts in human services, that prisons would shut down resulting in the early release of prisoners, and that schools would close early.

The budget rebalance ensures this will not happen. We were able to make key improvements to the original budget proposal and reach an agreement that protects public safety, human services and education.
1.    The bills provide funds for universities and community colleges to end their terms intact.
2.    We protected public safety and kept prisons operating.
3.    We safeguarded vital human services.
4.    And we provided school districts with the funds necessary to save most school days and teachers.

The Ways and Means Committee members first developed guiding principles concerning the impacts of their decisions on the economy and jobs. They worked to minimize reductions that would significantly endanger seniors, children, and the disabled, maximize the use of federal dollars, and limit damage to education as much as possible. To view the official principles you can visit: http://tiny.cc/principles.

The School Day Restoration Fund created in SB 5552 allowed most districts to avoid cutting school days.  The Governor's plan to make blanket cuts would have cost schools in Oregon roughly $300 million.  By being diligent and maximizing federal dollars where possible we were able to reduce that cut to $54 million. 

We reached out to School Superintendants in my district to find out how the School Day Restoration fund affects the current school year and the next biennium.  Most districts saved days and a few districts saved entire weeks.  Every district approached the shortfall with different money saving measures, but every district reported that they were better off under the Legislature's rebalance plan. 

Given the Governor's threat to veto any bill that used funds from our rainy day accounts now, our combination of savings and the use of federal stimulus funds will get us through this school year with the smallest disruption possible.

We are just starting to work on a budget for the '09-'11 biennium.  Our Job Creation and Family Support Plan is aimed at saving and providing jobs to rebuild our economy, protecting families facing tough times and preparing for a brighter future.

There will be program funding cuts to reduce the $3.3 to $5 billion shortfall.  Balancing this budget may require much more. The next two years in the state will see huge strains on our most basic and necessary services because of budget cuts.  The rest of the 2009 legislative session will be very difficult.  Stay tuned.

Survey
It has come to my attention that the survey link we sent out in the last e-newsletter was broken.  We have corrected this problem and would greatly appreciate your feedback.  To access the survey from my legislative website visit: http://www.leg.state.or.us/barnhart/.