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Special Budget Report )
July 29, 2005
in this issue
  • Tax Reform
  • Education
  • Public Health
  • Public Safety
  • Environment
  • In Close
  • The Senate leadership has done an excellent job of negotiating a budget agreement with the House, given the State�s limited resources this year. The final budget this year will fail to cover the basic services for which the Legislature is responsible because of the House leadership�s refusal to review our flawed and unfair system of tax giveaways. Here is the financial impact of this session.

    Signature
    Phil Barnhart

    Tax Reform

    Oregon spends 42 cents of every tax dollar through tax loopholes that rarely benefit regular Oregonians. The result is that just a few corporations and wealthy individuals get away with very low taxes, while the State cuts education, public health and public safety. As soon as we address this issue, we will have the necessary resources to prevent future cuts and to begin rebuilding.

    Education
    Education

    The final budget for public education will allocate $5.24 billion for this biennium, which comes short of the $5.4 billion necessary to prevent statewide cuts to educational programs, but is far better than the original $5.0 billion called for by the House leadership.

    Community colleges required $440 million statewide in order to avoid program cuts, and the Legislature allocated $434 million. Community colleges will have to implement some program cuts or tuition hikes, but those cuts will be smaller than expected.

    Universities fared somewhat better this year. In the past four years, tuition at Oregon universities has increased 40 percent. This budget will hold tuition increases down to 3 percent per year. It will also fully fund the Oregon Opportunity Grant for all eligible students. This is the first university budget in a long time that is higher than the Governor�s recommended budget. We need to stop the tuition increase that is pricing our students out of higher education.

    Public Health
    Public health

    The Legislature succeeded in fully funding Oregon Project Independence, which assists disabled seniors who prefer to remain at home rather than moving into costly retirement centers. This program provides valuable support while saving taxpayer money.

    We achieved a no cuts budget for the Oregon Health Plan, including dental coverage. This will allow OHP clients to obtain preventative treatments and to avoid the pain and expense of many serious ailments. Unfortunately, most former OHP clients are still off the roles.

    The main loss in the public health budget was the elimination of the general assistance program for applicants for federal Social Security Disability. The application process for these applicants often takes a year, and the State has been assisting them as they wait for the beginning of their payments. The program costs taxpayers next to nothing, because once these folks begin receiving their social security checks, their first lump payment is sent to the State for reimbursement. This unnecessary cut could do significant harm to may of Oregon�s disabled.

    Another significant loss was the $4 million cut from Healthy Start, Oregon's neonatal screening program for at-risk families. This means that fewer young families who need help will be referred for it in time to prevent serious harm to their small children.

    Public Safety

    The House initially passed a budget cutting the Department of State Police by 20 troopers, but thankfully the Senate Democrats convinced the House Republicans to maintain every existing trooper. There are already too few State troopers to provide 24-hour coverage of most of their patrols. Our low level of funding is seriously impacting our ability to investigate and arrest methamphetamine cookers and dealers. We would need 45 more troopers just to cover I-5, and 90 more troopers to provide minimal 24-hour police coverage statewide. I voted against this budget because it was too small, even after the Senate's positive contribution.

    The Legislature has eliminated State funding for County Deputy District Attorneys. The Lane County District Attorney has already been forced to stop prosecuting 100 misdemeanor charges because he does not have enough staff to manage a full caseload. Other counties have stopped prosecuting a number of crimes related to meth production, despite the severity of the meth epidemic statewide. The public safety system is an interactive network. Each component, including police, prosecution, courts, public defenders, treatment/rehab, jails, prisons, and education, must all work well, or none will work properly to reduce crime and rehabilitate criminals when possible. This budget must be increased.

    The Legislature only averted further cuts to the public safety budget by postponing the construction of the Madras prison until nearly the end of the biennium.

    Environment
    Multnomah Falls

    One of the fights on the budget is a paragraph in the Department of Environmental Quality bill that would require Oregon not to impose California-style restrictions on vehicular emissions. I will urge the Governor to line-item veto that paragraph of that budget bill or, failing that, to apply the nearly identical Washington restrictions instead. Washington�s own restriction can only go into effect if Oregon adopts something similar, because of a provision in its new law.

    In Close

    This is a very ugly budget, but it is surprisingly better than I was expecting. Senators Courtney and Brown did a great job as the Senate�s negotiators. Please contact my office with questions about specific budget items!

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