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Representative Phil Barnhart E-Newsletter
News from the Oregon State Legislature April 2005

In This Issue:

The Ending Fund Balances Debacle

Town Hall Announcement

House Passes My Bill to Increase Government Efficiency

House Passes My Bill to Save Ailing Local Industry

House Debates Funding Schools

New Tax Breaks for Corporations

No Co-Chairs Budget

The Duck, The President and I

Closing Thoughts



The Ending Fund Balances Debacle
Let's Do No More Harm

On April 6, the Statesman Journal printed a news story under the headline, "Salem-Keizer banks most dollars." The story contained under-researched assertions about the ending fund balances of Oregon school districts and implied they have acted irresponsibly by reserving funds. Sadly, this news story gave a severely flawed picture of the financial realities that face public schools.

The Statesman Journal particularly unfairly chastised Jewell and Salem-Keizer School Districts for supposedly saving money at the expense of their students.

The article said Jewell School District has "enough in its coffers to operate at current levels without receiving another penny." In reality, Jewell has not received one penny from the state for over five years.

Notwithstanding the Statesman Journal's implication that Jewell has hoarded funds while cutting programs, the district actually maintains their reserve to upgrade programs and improve buildings. Jewell will use most of its reserve funds to remodel their building without borrowing. Jewell runs a free preschool program for all children. It offers breakfast and lunch to every student for a mere $100 per year, and reduced-cost lunch for those who qualify. In short, Jewell is a success.

Although Salem-Keizer School District has faced real problems, its ending balance is not among them. Of the $44.6 million the Journal said the district had in reserve, $13 million was actually anticipated revenue that did not yet exist. In addition, Salem-Keizer used $29 million of the remaining $31 million to fill an unexpected shortfall that occurred during the 2004- 2005 school year.

The article failed to mention that the Legislature funded schools in 2003-04 as if Ballot Measure 30-a tax-increase measure-would pass. Measure 30 failed, however, causing the Department of Education to allocate 15 percent less to Salem-Keizer in 2004-05 than in 2003-04.

Salem-Keizer was prudent by budgeting as if Measure 30 would fail, saving some of its 2003-04 funds, and avoiding harm to programs for this year. Otherwise, a shortage of funds would have forced it to cut its budget by 10 percent in 2004-05, increasing class sizes, ending teachers' positions and cutting school days.

Many of Oregon's other school districts had high ending fund balances last year to pay for a variety of unpredictable needs in addition to the cut in 2004-05 (i.e. increases in PERS rates). This allows them to stabilize their programs as the Legislature puts education on the chopping block each session. The House majority is refusing to allocate enough money to maintain current educational services yet again.

School districts work valiantly to stabilize their educational programs. The unusual June, 2004 balances have been spent this year, as planned. This sensational and misleading story in the Statesman Journal has made the job harder by whipping up public concern over a nonexistent problem that diverts attention from the real issue- the Legislature's lack of will to fund public education properly.

Rather than criticize school boards for exercising fiscal responsibility by setting aside prudent reserves, we should commend them and beg them to keep up the good work.




This is the fifth of many e-newsletters that I will be sending out during the 2005 session of the Oregon State Legislature. The purpose of this newsletter is to keep you informed about the progress that the Legislature is making, and about the work that I am doing to represent House District 11 and to support the values that we all hold dear: educating and nurturing our children, supporting our seniors, and protecting our communities.

  • Town Hall Announcement
  • Veteran's Affairs Town Hall - On Saturday, April 23, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., I will be hosting a Town Hall with Representative Debi Farr to discuss the Legislature's work regarding soldiers, veterans and their families. All other Lane County legislators have also been invited.

    Time permitting, we will take all questions pertaining to the work of the Legislature, prioritizing those related to veterans' affairs, so please join us if you have any concerns that you wish to voice.

    The Town Hall will be located at the Eugene Armory, 2515 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Eugene, Oregon 97401

  • House Passes My Bill to Increase Government Efficiency
  • Thursday, April 14 - HB 2649 passed the House unanimously and is now under consideration in the Senate. This bill will amend obsolete statutes by allowing municipal corporations to take advantage of new technology by publishing their budget summaries online with a notice in the newspaper rather than publishing their full budget summaries in newspapers. It will increase government accountability by making budgeting information more available, and it has the potential to cut government waste by more than $3 million per biennium. This bill has bipartisan support, and I hope for its smooth passage in the Senate.

  • House Passes My Bill to Save Ailing Local Industry
  • Monday, April 11 - HB 2328, which I introduced on behalf of the Northwest Propane Gas Association, will eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations on propane dealers and their customers in Lane County by putting the authority to regulate fire safety solely in the hands of the State Fire Marshall. This will help consumers who use propane for their household energy needs, and it will promote the burning of this clean fuel rather than wood or oil. The bill passed unanimously both in committee and in the full House.

  • House Debates Funding Schools
  • Teaching Students

    Thursday, March 31 - On this day, legislators attempted to assert their positions on important budget concerns. I moved to have the House consider House Bill 2858, a bill that would give $5.4 billion to our K-12 education system, the minimum amount necessary to avoid larger class sizes and fewer school days. The discussion was heated and the Republicans refused to include this bill in the discussion for our state budget. The Co-Chairs of the Ways and Means Committee were scheduled to come out with a proposed budget on Monday, April 4, and it was important that this bill would be heard and included in their discussions over the weekend. Unfortunately, even though Democrats called for bi- partisanship and the fulfillment of the universal campaign promise to support our schools, the bill was voted down on partisan lines.

  • New Tax Breaks for Corporations
  • Wednesday, April 6 - House Bill 2542, a bill that buried expensive and useless corporate tax loopholes among good ideas, came to the House floor for a vote on Monday. My Democratic colleagues and I understood that this bill could be great if we removed new tax breaks for major corporations outside Oregon, as it also contained provisions to support veterans and many regular families. Those companies testified in the House Revenue Committee that these new tax breaks would not cause them to either invest more money in Oregon or create new jobs. My Democratic colleagues created an alternative bill to remove those tax breaks, but it failed on a party-line vote. The Senate will likely remove these breaks that would hurt nearly all Oregonians by reducing school and health care funding.

  • No Co-Chairs Budget
  • Monday, April 4 - The Ways and Means Co-Chairs intended to produce a budget proposal on this day, but their weekend negotiations could not resolve fundamental disagreements in spending allocations. Senator Schrader, the Senate Ways and Means Co- Chair refused to redirect funds from schools to create the state's largest ending reserve in its history, as Representative Scott, the House Ways and Means Co-Chair, proposes. This disagreement is does not bode well for the year's ongoing budget negotiations. The Republican plan is the equivalent of a cut of two weeks of school next year.

  • The Duck, The President and I
  • Barnhart and Frohnmeyer

    The Oregon Duck came to the Capitol with President Dave Frohnmeyer. I am continuing to work to support the University of Oregon, and other Oregon universities, through my work here at the Legislature.

  • Closing Thoughts
  • These past weeks have occasionally raised pulses and tempers. I am committed to working together with Representatives on both sides of the aisle on behalf of Oregon. I hope that we will be able to combine our different visions for Oregon's future and craft a responsibly revised budget and tax code. Stay tuned...

    I appreciate all the letters and emails you are sending to me. Keep it up. I continue to listen and learn.

    :: (503) 986-1411


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    Representative Phil Barnhart | 900 Court St. NE | Salem | OR | 97301

    April 21, 2005