A voice I trust
My friend and former partner Greg Macpherson, who embodies the rare "Cincinnatus spirit" in the Oregon Legislature, provides this fair and balanced update on the goings-on in the State Capitol:
One week ago, the current legislative session won the distinction of becoming the longest in Oregon’s history. As a freshman member of the House, representing Lake Oswego and part of Southwest Portland, that was a not a record I wanted us to set.
The session goes on and on because the legislature has a constitutional duty to adopt a balanced state budget for the two years that started July 1, 2003. Despite passing that starting date six weeks ago, the legislature has yet to agree on a budget.
The impasse results from simple math. The state’s projected revenues fall far short of paying for basic services like schools, public safety and human services.
Virtually all legislators agree that the state must find new revenue to balance the budget. But they do not agree on how much new revenue to raise and where it will come from.
Last week the House Republicans and Democrats each selected four of their members to form a new negotiating group to seek a compromise. As one of the four Democrats selected to negotiate the budget, I have spent long hours discussing essential service levels and how to pay for them.
The greatest area of disagreement is over how much state support to provide for K-12 schools. Democrats seek enough funding to assure a full school year, manageable class sizes, and restoration of some programs cut in recent years. House Republicans say Oregon cannot afford that funding level.
The sides also disagree about how to generate new revenue. House Republicans propose that much of the needed revenue be taken from reserve funds and by selling bonds. Reserve funds have been set aside for dedicated purposes, such as fighting forest fires and assisting injured workers. Bonds are just another form of borrowing that must be repaid.
I regard such methods as fiscally irresponsible. Those who want to use them are like a family faced with a budget squeeze that cashes in their retirement plan and runs up the balance on their credit cards. Instead, a family member should find an extra part-time job to pay for essential needs that current income cannot cover.
Our disagreements result from a basic difference in philosophy. My Republican colleagues sincerely believe that public services, such as school funding, should be cut at a time when Oregon’s economy is suffering. Some of them say the public sector should feel the same pain as the private sector.
I believe our economy cannot recover unless we maintain good public services -- especially a high quality school system. If business owners and managers decide Oregon provides a second-rate education, they will locate elsewhere.
That philosophical debate is playing out at both ends of the Capitol. Our negotiations in the House have a parallel group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate also negotiating over the budget.
Late last week, the Senate negotiators achieved a break-through agreement over a spending level and the revenue needed to pay for it. But before it can be adopted, that agreement must be approved by both the House and the Senate. Finding a consensus is complicated by the fact that the Oregon constitution was amended a few years ago to require approval by 60 percent of the Senators and Representatives for measures that raise revenue, rather than by the normal majority.
August is proving to be a long, hot month in Salem. While many Oregonians enjoy a summer vacation, their legislature struggles on.