Dems laying groundwork to use K-12 as budget hostage, again

Jeff Kruse

by Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg)

We have reached the end of the seventh week of this legislative Session.  It is time for a short recap of events.  We started out at a very fast pace, passing several significant bills very early.  With everything from low carbon to legal class action there seems to be one theme, and that would be political payback.  The groups who have benefitted from this agenda include trial lawyers, environmental groups and “clean energy” companies.  These groups are major contributors to Democrat campaigns and this was their reward.

This week on the floor of the Senate there was hardly any action, in fact one day we only had one bill to vote on. One might wonder why the total sense of urgency in the early weeks when it is clear we are not in a time crunch.  One theory is there is a hope that this early action will be forgotten about by the end of the Session.  The people of Oregon are now paying more attention to the political process and what the impacts are.  Unfortunately for the Democrats, this early agenda will not be forgotten.  While it is true elections have consequences, and we are seeing the results now, we believe legislative action can have consequences as well.  2016 is not that far way, which will be the next opportunity for the people of Oregon to grade us on our performance.

Meanwhile we have been relatively silent on other major issues, including education funding.  Clearly there are several major issues in education we need to be dealing with, but the major issue always comes down to how much money we end up putting into the K-12 funding formula. The Governor’s budget (which may not be that relevant anymore) basically flat funded K-12 while putting significant amount of money into new programs.  For example, the relatively newly created Oregon Education Investment Board is costing around $20,000,000.  There are several other examples, but one is sufficient to make the point.

This is the point where the political games begin, and the K-12 budget will be front and center as usual.  It is rumored that the Ways and Means Committee is going to pass out a K-12 budget at 7.235 billion dollars.  They are going to do this with the full understanding that 7.5 billion is actually the minimum number needed.  So you might ask why they would do this.  The answer is very simple, [Democrats] want to set up a scenario where tax increases are necessary and they also want to take the Kicker away from the people unnecessarily if indeed it does kick. So, if they do pass this budget, they will come back asking for additional revenue to adequately fund education.  The political theory is to force Republicans to vote for new taxes or be labeled as anti-education.

The reality is, when the Republicans held the majority in the Legislature, education was always funded at a number significantly above what the Governor had put in his budget.  It wasn’t until the Democrats took control that the numbers really started to slip, and yet it continues to be portrayed as the Republican’s fault.  This time, because they have a super majority I think it will be hard to blame anyone but themselves, but they are still trying to play the game.

We have not just been sitting by waiting for this to happen, we have developed our own plan for funding K-12.  With some common sense budget adjustments we believe we can get the K-12 budget not only to the 7.5 billion number they have told us is really the bare minimum, but we think we could actually get the number above 7.75 billion without new taxes and without taking the Kicker.  The question at this point will be what the reaction of the majority party will be.  Will they be willing to look for real solutions within existing revenue or is their desire for new taxes just too great.

There are clearly many more unresolved issues in education and education budgets, including the fact we should be putting more money into the community college system.  We also have a lot of questions we feel should be answered, including such things as why less than half of the employees at the University of Oregon are actually in the classroom and why the K-12 system has blindly bought into Common Core and what the real impacts of that move are.

For years we have been trying to get the education budgets resolved early so they don’t get wrapped up in the political end game of the Session.  Unfortunately we appear to be heading towards a scenario once again where school districts will not know the real numbers in a timely enough fashion to meet their budget deadlines.  We can and should do better than this.