Meetings to begin on major state budget cuts

Ways and Means Co-Chairs Senator Margaret Carter and Representative Peter Buckley  announced a schedule as they work to  balance the 2009-2011 budget for Legislative approval in the face of a budget hole estimated to grow from the current forecast of $3.1 billion to $4.4 billion.

Included in the schedule are numerous opportunities for public input at
hearings, as well as the ability to see all the potential cuts that
must be considered.
   
That budget balancing process began Apr.
3 when the co-chairs released a list of potential cuts from every state
agency amounting to 30 percent. That information can be found at a new
website — http://www.leg.state.or.us/budget/ put together by the
Legislative Fiscal office.
   
Carter (D-Portland) and Buckley
(D-Ashland) noted these are not cuts recommended by the Legislature,
but give legislators a list of cuts to prioritize as they prepare for
the May revenue forecast.

Superintendent of Public
Instruction, Susan Castillo, responded to the Ways & Means request
to submit a budget with a 30 percent reduction.  She said she would not
take "across the board" cuts.

   
Castillo said it has
been calculated that the essential budget level for K-1 for 2009-11
will be $6.55 billion. A 30 percent reduction would cut $1.96 billion.
With anticipated federal stimulus funds, Castillo said "Oregon’s school
districts will not be able to make this level of cut without dramatic
staff layoffs or a drastic shortening of the school year." She said
about 5,500 education-related jobs would be eliminated, assuming
schools will find savings of about $600 million in services and
supplies no longer needed due to layoffs. Alternatively, at an
estimated savings of $21 million per day, districts would need to cut
at least 35 days off the school year in each of the next two school
years. While it is likely that most districts would use a combination
of staff cuts and reduced school days, the implications are clear,"
said Castillo.

   
Students with disabilities, Head Start and No Child Left Behind federal funding could be jeopardized.
   
Castillo
is urging the use of all resources to help close the budget gap. She
mentions stimulus dollars, state reserve and rain day funds, "and yes,
some reductions are the first step to balancing the budget."
   
"We
are in dire circumstances and cuts this deep will have a profound
affect on all Oregonians. We want to hear from the people about how
their day-to-day lives will be affected as we evaluate the impact cuts
of this magnitude will have on our communities, our families and our
schools and as we seek to mitigate the worst of the cuts," Carter said.
   
Buckley
said after the agency lists are released, the Ways and Means Committee
will embark on two weeks of public hearings around the state. One of
those hearings will be in Ashland later in April.
   
"We are
seeking their input on the services we must keep, and the services they
believe we can live without," said Buckley. "These are difficult
choices facing Oregon, and we are committed to hearing from our
citizens about those services they value most."
   
Why $4.4
billion? In the March forecast, the 2009-2011 budget hole was pegged at
approximately $3.1 billion by the state economist. But Senate President
Peter Courtney and House Speaker Dave Hunt said the Legislature needs
to be prepared if the May forecast drops projected revenues even
further.
    "These 30 percent cuts will prepare us for the May
forecast," said Courtney. "If we plan smart, we will be ready for any
budget shortfall."

   
The Legislature has several
additional tools beyond cuts to mitigate the impacts of the budget
hole.  Legislators will be able to tap federal stimulus dollars and
state reserve funds to make up some of the deficit. Those federal and
state dollars amount to a total of less than $2 billion, requiring at
least $2 billion in cuts or revenue increases.
   
"We’ll need a
balanced approach to get to a balanced budget," said House Speaker Dave
Hunt. So we’re going to need a combination of budget cuts and targeted,
fair revenue increases to balance the budget in these difficult
economic times."
   
Following the public hearings in late
April, Ways and Means subcommittees will begin public hearings on
various agency budgets as they work to prioritize the cuts list. When
the revenue forecast is delivered in mid-May, legislative budget
writers will issue the "co-chairs budget," hold additional hearings and
begin sending budget bills to the floors of the House and Senate.
    "This will be a very open and transparent process, with multiple opportunities for citizens to weigh in," said Hunt.

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