|Representative Phil Barnhart E-Newsletter|
This is the sixth of my 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.
April 23 - I hosted a joint town hall meeting with Rep. Debi Farr (R - Eugene) at the Eugene Armory to seek community input on the issues affecting Oregon soldiers, veterans and their families. More than thirty veterans and their family members attended the town hall, asking questions about issues ranging from the effects of depleted uranium on soldiers' health to how Oregon can assist the state's many homeless veterans. It is critical that we provide our soldiers the support they need when they return from combat in order to ease their transition to civilian life. We must also ensure that our veterans' forever receive the respect and support network they deserve. We must never forget their sacrifices.
April 22 - I enjoyed a wonderful visit to three schools on the Legislature's "Back to School Day." At Creswell High School, I was impressed by the high caliber of questions asked by many government students, and by the energy and brightness of an economics class that I led, along with their teacher, in a budgeting exercise. At Pleasant Hill Elementary, I visited a class of 4th graders that impressed me with their knowledge of the Legislature and our work in Salem. I finished the day by presenting the "Academic Excellence" awards to accomplished Pleasant Hill Elementary and Middle School students, and meeting with their candidates for the Student Council. If the students I met in these three schools are indicative of their generation, then I believe that Oregon has a very bright future.
April 26 - The House and Senate Democratic Caucuses invited School Board members and school administrators from every school district in Oregon to a meeting of minds on Tuesday, April 26th. A panel of nearly thirty Democratic legislators listened to over one hundred school officials, from more than twenty different school districts, as they described their students' needs and criticized the Legislature for failing to provide adequate and stable funding for education. Republican legislators were also invited to join the panel, but none chose to attend. The officials gave a consensus on one main point: $5.4 billion is the minimum amount necessary in this biennium for most school districts to avoid drastic and severely damaging cuts. The House Republican plan, ironically titled the "Stable Schools Plan," would allocate $5 billion this biennium, and would lock K-12 education in Oregon into a long-term downward spiral by capping funding increases below inflationary costs. I support a no-cuts school budget, but we are not there yet.
May 2 - The 2005 legislative session may have just grown a couple of months longer. Angry that the Senate Democrats have not yet agreed to her complete budget proposal, the House Speaker has pulled the House of Representatives out of joint negotiations, shutting down the normal joint process for developing a budget. The House has pulled out of budget negotiations only two times before, and each time it has extended session lengths by months. In 2003, this same House Speaker forced the longest session in Oregon's history by using this strategy.
The budget disagreement began over the House Republican refusal to consider reviewing tax subsidies for major corporations, spending money that could otherwise be used for education, public health and safety. In the end, according to the Speaker, the Republican unwillingness to fund K-12 schools at a "do no harm" level led to their decision to set up a separate budget process. She has dug in her heals in defense of her school funding formula, ironically titled the "Stable Schools Plan," that would accelerate Oregon's downward spiral towards the largest class sizes, shortest school years and most outdated textbooks in the nation.