Kevin Mannix: Oregon Budget Crisis

When US Airways pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger had both of his plane’s engines cut out, Sully didn’t panic. As Captain of a plane in an emergency, he knew he had over 120 people’s lives in his hands. He chose a path, kept steady, and balanced. He made an extraordinary decision to land the plane in the Hudson River because he recognized it was the smartest choice, even though it was unusual. He saved everyone’s life and became a hero.

Now, we need our Governor and the legislature to take the same heroic approach to Oregon’s budget crisis. They should choose a glide path to an unusual, but safer landing, rather than a crash path.

The state is required to have a balanced budget. So, our expenditures cannot exceed our income. That is a given. However, the state is not required to purely budget on the biennial (2-year) cycle. We can make adjustments in light of current circumstances.
That is not what the governor and legislative leadership are doing. With a dramatic recent reduction in revenue in the current biennium, ending July 1, they have acted as though there are only four months available to address the immediate shortfall.

Yet, they have refused to use any of the “Rainy Day Fund” money currently available for education (nearly $800 million). They argue we will need the funds next biennium.

This nothing-for-now approach will result in dramatic slashes in social services and court operations.

I do not propose that all of the Rainy Day Fund be used immediately, but a substantial portion should be used to lessen the impact of current revenue reductions and to reduce but not slash services. Instead of a 4-month budget revision and then a 24-month new budget, the budget package should be a combined 16-month budget to get us to July 1, 2010, or a 28-month package to get us to July 1, 2011. I prefer the 16-month approach, as the economy is still volatile, and we are still trying to fully understand the impact of the federal stimulus funding.

In terms of budgeting the analogy is simple: a glide path. To properly land an aircraft, you cannot just nose down and head straight to the ground. You will crash. You need some time and space to more gently ease the aircraft to the ground. At present, the governor and the legislative leadership have chosen to take a nose dive rather than a glide path.

— Kevin Mannix