Opinion on Measures 66 and 67

We can’t recall when two ballot measures have been tied at the hips as are Measures 66 and 67. While it is entirely possible to pass one and not the other, no one seems to be thinking along those lines, especially those spending a couple of million for and against them. The Oregon Education Association (teachers) have spent over $800,000 in support of the measures, followed by state employees.

The unions are supporting the taxing measures while those more apt to be in business or in the financial and corporate worlds oppose them.

The commercials are pushing the emotional buttons as they say “education, human services and safety” will be the hardest hit if the measures do not pass.

The state says it will lose $727 million in General Fund revenue for the 2009-11 biennium if the measures fail. That is said to be about 5.5 percent of the currently approved General Fund budget. When the legislature meets for their month-long session in February, they expect to see the Legislative Fiscal Office list of 10 percent prioritized reductions from various agencies in 5% increments.

While no lists have been presented, in the case of the Department of Human Services, a 10 percent cut for them would be slightly under half of the total $727 million in the General Fund.

Several state prisons could be closed and some 1,900 inmates released.

Each department will have examples of what a five and 10 percent cut would do to them.

We are hard-pressed to understand why they are asking for 10 percent especially when one reads the above example.

In February Gov. Kulongoski cut his salary 5 percent, froze state executive and manager salaries, and canceled the new step for state managers. The total savings was $6.2 million, of which $2.5 was in the 07-09 budget.

For the 09-11 budget, salary freeze would save $122 million if it was done for all employees. But, there was still $218 million in state employee raises negotiated in 2007. And as taxpayers we pay 100 percent of the health insurance premiums for all state employees, including top officials.

In May the governor said there was about a $4 billion shortfall for 09-11. He said, “Oregon state government can no longer be all things to all people.”  And he listed possible suspension of some state committees, agencies and boards including: Board of Massage Therapists, Board of Occupational Therapy, Commission for Blind, Board of Licensed Dietitians, Consumer Advisory Council and Advocacy Commissions. He called for consolidation of the Aviation Department and all of the health-related agencies, boards and commissions as well as consideration of the consolidation of the Oregon Student Assistance Commission into the University System.  We found four of the six groups still listed in the Blue Book and perhaps the other two were with a slight revision in name. Did any of the above happen? We can’t be sure, but it does not appear that those groups were suspended.              

Mid-May Sen. Whitsett wrote about a proposed budget the House and Senate Republicans called a Back to Basics budget plan.
The plan:
• Assumes that government does not need to increase taxes to provide services needed and valued.
• Funds K-12 at $6.245 billion, and a full school year, with zero budget cuts.
• Protects public safety, human services, other core functions with minimum of the exact budget they had last cycle.
• Leaves $1.374 billion surplus and leaves $457 million in state reserves intact.
It uses:
• $911 million in Federal stimulus money and $457 million in Rainy Day and Ed Stability funds, leaving $457million in reserve.
• Uses $429 million in savings and efficiency enhancements.
After funding each core service at the 07-09 level, leaves the $1.374 billion left.

The Republicans contend the legislature has handed out increases without asking tough questions about what drives the costs and how can they be prioritized.

That was May.

On Dec. 23, the Republicans announced they had released a budget plan.
It involves:
• Cuts to salaries and benefits of state employees, to reserve funds, reform Business Energy Tax Credit and use of funding in accounts not normally touched.
Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, says the plan shows that the two measures up for a vote in January are not necessary.
Supporters of the tax measures say the Republican budget means cuts to education and relies on funds that may not be available as well as reserve funds.

The Dec. 23 Republican plan relies mainly on:
• Cuts of $291 million state employee compensation. Republicans  say the governor should negotiate cuts in pay worth $160 million, rolling back to 2008 levels and ask employees to pay $187 mo. for health care,.
• Use $203 million from Reserve Rainy Day funds. Republicans say the account is projected to have $382 million by July 2011.
• Agency account balances of $133 million. This is money in accounts not used. A quick glance shows here are some 130 Oregon agencies, boards, commissions.
• Energy tax credit reform – apparently as much as $50 million and perhaps more could be saved.

We believe additional savings can be found in the 130-plus agencies, commissions and  boards by reducing travel and meetings and by use of technology.

Since the “kicker” was established in the late 1970s, Oregonians have received $2.6 billion in refunds and corporations have received some $527 million. If the state had the amount in their General Fund that was returned to Oregonians just in 2007, we wouldn’t be spending money on this election. The amount returned in 2007 was $1 billion. The amount the state expects from Measures 66 and 67 is about $727 million.

Think what could be done if the several hundred groups spending money in the Voters’ Pamphlet and those who have spent about $2 million on TV advertising, would only unite and get behind eliminating the “kicker” or supporting a pleasure only sales tax, which would mean we would even get tax dollars from tourists.

Until the Democrats and Republicans forget their names (and name calling) and become the people we elected to work for us, we doubt any good will come of the vote in their February session.

Like the federal government, the Oregon legislature seems more polarized than we’ve seen in some time. Frankly, most of us don’t care whether they call themselves R or D, we simply want a well run state with some stability.

Until we see that they can function, we see no need in taxing us and our businesses and personal incomes more. We believe we will be hurt whether it is a yes or a no vote, therefore we will be voting no on both measures.
by Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent

 

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