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State Budget 

Good on transportation; PERS and education funding still hang in the balance

  • Edmund Garman

We're experiencing a phenomenon in our civic and social culture these days, in which our primary focus is on the words and actions of one person, President Donald J. Trump. Whether it's in print, television or online media, social media—or even person-to-person conversations, the topic of Trump always seems to raise its head! That one man commands such focus is perplexing, to say the least. I'm sure there's a psychological explanation, but one thing is certain: this focus is misplaced and potentially detrimental to our civic health and well-being.

There are many more crucial issues for us to be focused on here at home, such as Oregon's finances and budget.

The 2017 Oregon Legislative Session saw the passage of significant financial measures. A major accomplishment was the bipartisan, $5.3 billion transportation package, resulting from significant compromise, both on the revenue side and on the substantive aspects of the package. The package will have significant beneficial impact on infrastructure all across Oregon. The Legislature also made a commitment to cut government spending over the next two years, by $200 million. Another measure passed was Cover All Kids, potentially extending health care to an additional 17,600 children in Oregon. The Oregon Health Plan got a major boost in the passage of a funding plan to ensure continued coverage for Medicaid to the approximately 350,000 Oregonians brought into the program over the past few years. And the K-12 budget passed was $8.2 billion, an 11 percent increase from the previous two-year budget.

With all of these "successes," however, there's still uncertainty and work to do.

The Legislature was unsuccessful in efforts to reform Oregon's tax system, or to make serious progress in addressing the costs of Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System. With respect to the health care package, several of the revenue raising-provisions have been challenged through the citizen referendum, Measure 101. If these provisions are overturned by the voters, the Legislature will be forced to deal with the deficit that would be created in health care funding—handling it in the 2018 Legislative Session in February, which lasts only about 45 days.

In addition to these areas of economic consequence, there is the ever-present issue of underfunding public education in all respects. On the higher education end, funding at a level less than requested resulted in increased tuition at some institutions, and a paring down of the relatively new Oregon Promise Program at the state's community colleges. On the K-12 end, though the budget which passed was an increase, it was less than requested and will result in teacher shortages and cutbacks. Additionally, this funding is nowhere near the $9.97 billion called for in Oregon's Quality Education Model for this biennium. In the two decades in which the legislatively mandated QEM has existed, the funding level recommended has never been met.

These are just a handful of examples to illustrate the budgetary and financial issues within our state government which have the potential to impact thousands of lives. It's here that we should be focusing our collective attention, rather than wasting it on the antics of the "man at the top."

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