Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Telfer's Funny-Money Budget "Solution"

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 7:42 PM

Carla Axtman on the BlueOregon blog tears into state Sen. Chris Telfer for peddling some fuzzy numbers in her proposed “solution” to the state’s budget problems.

Telfer says the modest tax increases on corporations and high-income Oregonians that voters will be asked to approve or reject in January aren’t necessary and that the budget gap can be closed by dipping into reserve funds, reforming the Business Energy Tax Credit program and trimming pay and benefits for state employees, among other things.

But as Axtman points out, many of those savings look dubious, and those that don’t would not come close to erasing the $733 million deficit projected if the tax measures don’t pass.

“The take-backs from state employees are outside the purview of the legislature,” Axtman writes. “The way I understand it, this would require a re-opening of the contracts that the state has signed with employees. Unless Telfer has some sort of new legislative fiat that nobody knows about, that is.”

As for saving $85 million by reforming the BETC, Axtman says, Telfer provides “no details on how to do it. Maybe $50 million could be saved, but we're talking about a $733 million budget hole. Even with that reform, taxes will still have to go up.”

Dipping into the state’s reserves would mean less funding for public schools. “We need to cut more school days, further enlarge class size and cut more teachers and staff?” Axtman asks. “Yeah, that'll bring employers in droves to our state – suckier schools.”

The juiciest bit, though, is where Axtman goes after Telfer for proposing to cut $5.4 million in state spending for “aircraft and autos.”

“According to the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), that's a category of capital outlay in the state budget called Automotive and Aircraft,” Axtman writes. “General fund expenditures in that category total $5,497,134. The state budget shows that $5,492,404 in capital outlay in that category is in the Department of State Police. That means, according to LFO, that all but $5,000 (which as I understand it goes to the Department of Fish and Wildlife) goes for State Police vehicles – both new and replacement vehicles.

“Did Telfer not bother to even check where this money is going? Or is it her contention that the state troopers added to the previous budget … are supposed to get around the state catching bad guys on foot?”

Telfer’s “alleged plan cuts hundreds of millions from the education budget,” House Speaker Dave Hunt said when the plan was unveiled a week ago. “It cuts hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships for needy college students. It uses funny money schemes, and it leaves Oregon broke.”

Telfer is a Republican and I guess we can’t blame her for subscribing to the Republican dogma that any tax increase, at any time, for any reason is evil. But it’s embarrassing to see that our state senator apparently has such a tenuous grasp of budget realities.

And she’s an accountant, no less.

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