Others Say: Lawmakers must focus on stabilizing state’s future

Lawmakers must focus on stabilizing state’s future

On the surface, it appeared the recent revenue forecast of an additional $187 million to flow into Oregon’s coffers was good news.

But the report last Tuesday that Oregon could take in a record $21 billion over the next biennium didn’t provide Democrats with the best of days. The extra cash complicates Democrats’ session-long message that the state, facing a $1.4 billion deficit for the 2017-2019 biennium, needs more revenue to cover costs.

Republican leaders were quick to chime in on the conflicting narrative. House Republican leader Mike McLane called the new forecast “evidence of the fact that our government needs to tighten its belt and get serious about slowing the unsustainable rate of spending in Salem.”

But in recent weeks, it is evident that, in fact, serious bipartisan work had begun on both spending controls and identifying a new, more sustainable revenue stream. And that work must continue with rigor in these waning weeks of the legislature.

The state’s top budget committee made several solid recommendations to Democratic leaders in recent weeks. Committee members logically called for increasing the amount current and future PERS members pay toward their retirement costs. They also suggested the smart move of looking for savings by combining two health care providers that have separately served public employees and employees of school districts and community colleges.

Then they provided the “well, duh” — but obviously necessary — list of cost-saving budget principles recommending against the creation of new programs without money to fund them. They shunned the practice of automatically replacing lost federal or other funding. And committee members also correctly called for requiring analysis of ongoing costs when creating the budget rather than initial costs for all new programs.

These are solid and necessary recommendations to help provide some needed relief from future pension and healthcare costs that threaten to weigh down public schools, agencies and programs in the decades to come. And rightly so, voices on both the left and right are calling for these checks on spending so we can improve education in Oregon and make long-overdue improvements to our public infrastructure.

But the state also needs a new, less volatile revenue stream that can help pay down the massive unfunded pension liability created by years of bad legislative and administrative decisions. Democratic Sen. Mark Hass’ current proposal for a corporate tax that would be levied across a wide range of companies at a low rate appears more fair and attainable than other proposals.

Lawmakers and stakeholders, such as labor and business, who have promised to help Oregon out of this crisis can’t throttle back now. This is not work that should wait. Oregon’s state budget needs to be stabilized now to provide sustained support for those most vulnerable Oregonians in the years to come.
The time has come.

For some, it’s past time. School districts are waiting for solid numbers out of Salem to craft their own budgets, which typically must be released to their communities at the end of May. The end of the school year is just weeks away and, like us all, we are waiting on lawmakers to do the right thing and get the work done.

The Oregonian/OregonLive



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