New Oregon budget approach: live within our means

Co-Chairs Release Proposed Budget

(SALEM) – The Co-Chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee released a proposed $14.65 billion budget for the 2011-13 biennium yesterday.

Release of the co-chairs proposal is considered a key milestone in the legislative budget process and was released in March for only the second time in the last decade. By comparison, in the 2009 session the co-chairs budget was not released until May 18.

“We still have a long way to go.  The cuts included in our proposal are too deep–we’re still at a point where schools will see layoffs and cut days, and our in-home care programs for our seniors and people with disabilities are at risk.  While we are taking a step forward with this proposal, we must find ways to address the critical services Oregonians depend on,” said House Co-Chair Peter Buckley (D-Ashland).

“This budget represents a concerted effort to rethink the budgeting process. We must budget within available resources. We have agreed to set aside prudent reserves to deal with an uncertain economy. The Ways and Means Subcommittees have a lot of work ahead of them as they work on detailed program-level budgets. While difficult decisions are before us, I am encouraged by the collaborative, bipartisan effort demonstrated thus far,” said House Co-Chair Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point).

“Today marks an important step in the budgeting process, but not the final one. The Legislature is the people’s branch and we have an obligation to make sure budgets aren’t written behind closed doors,” said Senate Co-Chair Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin). “No matter how you do this budget, it will require shared sacrifice. Oregon’s economy is showing signs of improvement, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to make difficult choices this session to balance the budget.”

The co-chairs budget proposal calls for funding K-12 education at $5.7 billion for the next two years, an increase of $142.7 million over the Governor’s Recommended Budget. The co-chairs proposal adds $100 million from the Education Stability Fund (ESF) and an additional $23 million from the Common School Fund.

Under the co-chairs’ proposal, money from the ESF can only be allocated to school districts for the purposes of reducing class sizes and preserving school days in the 2011-2012 school year. Additionally, ESF money cannot be distributed to Education Service Districts.

Other educational entities would receive $1.66 billion under the proposal.

Other program areas and their level of funding under the co-chairs proposed budget include: Human Services, $3.729 billion; Public Safety/Judicial branch, $2.41 billion; Transportation/Economic Development, $286.5 million; Natural Resources, $304.5 million; and General Government, $264 million.

The co-chairs proposed budget includes cuts in every program area and does not include any funds specified for state employee pay increases.

The budget proposal also leaves $19.3 million in the emergency fund, which can be accessed by the Legislative Emergency Board when the full Legislature is not in session.

In addition, the co-chairs budget plan leaves an ending fund balance of $460 million. The co-chairs have agreed that up to $310 million of the ending balance may be appropriated during the February 2012 session and is to be targeted to agency budgets other than the State School Fund.

Should the revenue forecast received by the Legislature in May result in an increase in available funds, the co-chairs budget proposal also includes an agreement to consider using additional funds to enhance 2011-2013 budgets and/or the ending balance, ESF or Oregon Rainy Day Fund.