Legislators Getting Nearer to Major Budget Decisions

The long-awaited "Co-Chairs' Budget" will be released today.  

The release will signal the start of the process by which the Ways and Means Committee begins to make what everyone knows will be the toughest decisions for the legislature this session – balancing the 2011-13 state budget.

So far, legislators have not faced any of those decisions, such as:

  • Decisions on the Juvenile Corrections budget, which generated headlines last week about how many secure treatment beds would be cut;
  • Decisions on the size of the K-12 investment, which usually occupies center stage in any budget play, and which may involve the usual debate  among the governor, other Democrats and Republicans about who can propose the most money for schools;
  • Decisions on the higher education system, with its proposals to free up some institutions, particularly the University of Oregon, from substantial "state-agency-type" control;
  • Decisions on how to fund a State Corrections system, which continues to draw huge chunks of revenue as a fully general-funded agency;
  • Decisions on whether to adopt the governor's proposals for an "Early Learning Council" to combine programs serving children and families;
  • Decisions on reforming the state's health care delivery system, both for the low-income population served under Medicaid and for all other Oregonians, as well;
  • And decisions on the state social services budget, which usually is the final budget approved by a legislature more focused on education and public safety.

Lurking in the background are at least two other major issues: how to fund the Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network (OWIN) project, which has gained a lot of criticism from The Oregonian, and decisions about the proposed Columbia River Crossing (CRC), which will be the subject of consideration by the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee on Monday (March 28) in the form of House Joint Memorial 22.  [As a footnote, the CRC will not draw down state money in this legislative session.  Governors in Oregon and Washington have assigned their Transportation Departments to find money within current budgets to continue CRC planning.]

In view of the budget decisions on the table, there was an interesting discussion at the Salem Statesman-Journal editorial board last week between the two Oregon House speakers, Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay.  The two have found a way to work together this session with a House evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, but their different perspectives on the budget for 2011-13 probably illustrates the split in the wider, 60-member House.

Hanna reportedly told the editorial board that the state will have to make do with existing sources of revenue for 2011-13, which, according to the most recent revenue forecast, will yield $1.2 billion more in straight dollars than in 2009-11. Roblan, by contrast, responded that, straight dollars are all well and good, but when you account for inflation, caseload growth and roll-up costs, state coffers will be short $3.5 billion.

An increase or a shortage?  You decide.  And, in the next three months, legislators will have to decide, too.