Education, State Debt, Loan Sharks & Measure 37

Key legislation is flooding the Oregon House Floor, and it will affect Oregonians for generations to come.

I am hoping you will spend the time to read each newsletter. It is my feeling that the future of our state and nation depends on a renewed interest by citizens who care enough to learn what is really going on in their governments. The old saying is true, “”You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.” If the “first principle of leadership is Showing Up,” then my goal is to help every citizen who cares about their state government to “virtually” show up. If we learn what is going on, catch the vision for how it will affect Oregon and its citizens, and ignite the desire to use the influence citizens have on the policies developed and implemented by their elected officials, we can preserve our rights, liberties and maintain a government of, by and for the people.

I truly believe each of the following subjects will, in one way or another, impact your life and the lives of your families, so I hope this information is if interest to you. (For those readers in Arizona, California, Idaho, Indiana, Washington and other states, I can assure you the tactics and principles are the same even if the details may differ from state to state.)

Today’s newsletter will give an update on the four listed topics. Funding of Education is set forth below and the other three are linked at their titles.

– Funding for Education, set forth below
Oregon’s Ever-Increasing State Debt Load
The Legislature’s Sanctimonious and Hypocritical War Against Short Term Lenders
Legislator Lawyers Using Complex Legal Double-Speak to Undermine Measure 37

Funding for Education. Education in the state legislature always has two components: policy and politics.

Regarding the policy of funding education: In my opinion, it is irresponsible for politicians to define their support of education by joining the bidding war for voter approval with ever inflating promises of more money for K-12 Education. To me it would make more sense to first ask the following questions:

(1.) What outcomes are desired?
(2.) Will additional financial resources accelerate achieving the desired outcomes?
(3.) If so, how?
(4.) Is the current system the best way to achieve those outcomes?
(5.) What reforms in the current system would help reach the desired outcomes in a more efficient, effective and economical manner?

When it comes to educating our children, I watch our current system take our children from world leaders in math and science in the 3rd grade to the 26th place in the world by the time our kids reach the 10th grade “”behind Poland and Hungary and other third world countries. The USA is tied with Latvia (Measuring Up Internationally, National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, September 2006).

Instead of listening to the Oregon Education Association’s (OEA) mantra that all that is needed for student success is more money, we should be giving our teachers greater flexibility to achieve better performance in the classrooms.

I believe we should be providing positive incentives for the best teachers and stop discouraging innovation.

We should be allocating a greater percentage of education funding to the classrooms and grant more freedom, support, aids, assistants and power to teachers, principals and parents so they can determine how best to teach their unique mix of students.

Instead we hamstring our local educators with social engineering experiments that promise to produce tolerant toddlers and students.

In the realm of public education, cultural competence can never compensate for incompetence in Math, Science and English. In my opinion, we should not only focus on funding issues, but also on requiring accountability for what the tax dollars are buying.

Regarding the politics of funding education: In my first two sessions (2003 and 2005) Education was one of the last budgets to pass. Whether you are Democrat or Republican or Independent, the political game was as follows:

Stage One: In the December when the Legislative session began, the Governor would produce the Governor’s Recommended Budget (GRB), which would fund K-12 Education at levels current with or surpassing inflation rates.

Stage Two: In the early and mid-parts of the session the Democrats would present their K-12 Education Budget, which would always be hundreds of millions of dollars more than the GRB–knowing there would never be enough money to fund such a high level of K-12 spending.

Stage Three: The Republican Co-Chair would know that the Democrat K-12 budget level was grossly inflated, and so the Republicans would support a K-12 budget level that could be funded with available revenues, and that amount would always be somewhere near the GRB.

Stage Four: The negotiations on the K-12 budget would stall, while other budget items were passed that consumed the General Funds (tax and lottery revenues), until the end of the legislative session when, low and behold, there were inadequate General Fund dollars remaining to fund K-12.

Stage Five: Then, the Democrats would argue for tax increases to fund K-12″”after all, it was for the children””and the Republicans were blamed for not caring enough for the children to properly fund Education by agreeing to “vitally needed” tax increases. If the tax increases were denied, then the Democrats would begrudgingly agree to lesser funding for K-12 education and blame the uncaring and stingy Republicans for depriving Oregon’s children from the funds vitally needed for the Democrat’s proposed (inflated) K-12 budget.

This political strategy was effectively using unrealistic promises to human services advocates, community colleges and the Oregon University system. In short, the Democrats knowingly would make unrealistic promises to show their supporters that they cared, and thus, set up the Republicans to be the villains when the unrealistic budgetary promises were trimmed back to reality.

This Democrat strategy was more difficult to implement in the 2005 session after both the Democrats and Republican agreed to cap spending for the 2005-07 biennial budget at $12.393 billion. Once there was a cap the budget became a “zero sum game.” By that I mean that if there was only going to be $12.393 billion spent””which was a substantial increase in spending over the 2003-05 biennium, then an extra $200 million promised to K-12 would have to come from some other program budgets. That is exactly what happened.

I found myself as the Chair of the Ways and Means Human Services Subcommittee, and outside my office door were scores of advocates for health and human services programs and agencies who were seeing their budgets gutted for the sake of additional funding for K-12.

I thought it rather ironic for Democrat advocates for the poor to say they desperately needed the help of the House Republicans to protect the services for Oregon’s most needy citizens from the budget knifes of the pro-K12 Senate Democrats. By working together and remaining tough, sufficient funding was ultimately allocated between Education and programs benefiting the elderly, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, etc.

Now the political game for funding education has changed, the Democrats own the Legislature. The voters have given the Democrats control of all three offices in the Capitol””Governor, Senate President and House Speaker. With such political power the Democrats can do whatever they want with 14-20% of additional forecasted revenues.

Surprisingly for the Republicans, the Democrat Education funding game plan seems to have stayed the same.

Stage One: The Governor issued his GRB and it contained a 14% increase in K-12 spending at $6.06 billion.

Stage Two: Then the Democrats, who now include both the Senate and House Ways and Means Co-Chairs, bid up that K-12 budget number to $6.245 billion.

Stage Three: This session the rules of the game have changed a little. The game ends here, there is no stage four or five. The Republicans are in the Minority and have no power or opportunity to balance the budget. Without the detailed information and Constitutional mandate to provide a balanced budget all the Republicans can do is trust the Democrat Co-Chairs to use their newly-acquired power and authority in a responsible way.

On March 29 the Republicans agreed to the Co-Chairs’ inflated K-12 Budget level of $6.245 billion by making a Motion to immediately bring to the Floor House for a vote, the Education Funding Bill (H.B. 5020). Essentially, the Republicans agreed to the proposed $6.245 billion K-12 budget in order to fund education now rather than later.

Surprisingly, the House Democrats refused this opportunity to make good on the $6.245 billion K-12 budget promise by defeating this Republican Motion on a strict party-line vote.

As a result, Oregon’s 198 school districts still do not have a budget and the Co-Chairs must sharpen their pencils and figure out how to fund their $6.245 billion K-12 budget, which the Republicans have agreed to support, from the $14.9 billion of forecasted revenues.

To do, so the Co-Chairs appear to intend on drastically cutting back on funding needed for human services and from Oregon’s community colleges and universities — funding vitally needed for Oregon students to prepare for the skilled jobs and high tech knowledge required to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century. Whatever the Co-Chairs decide, they seem to be having a problem staying within the 14-20% increase in state revenues.

Thanks for reading,

Dennis Richardson
State Representative