22502105 Mmmain

Instead of reducing spending on public employee pensions and implementing a hiring freeze, legislators propose drastic cuts to spending for children, veterans, the poor and elderly. They’re trying to bully us into a massive hidden sales tax on everything we buy.

In bid for new taxes, Democrats paint grim future for Oregon.

SALEM – A new list of possible cuts to state agencies that paints a dark future for Oregonians was the talk of the capitol Tuesday.

To fill the looming budget gap, Democrats proposed throwing 350,000 low-income Oregonians off Medicaid, cutting services to foster children and the families that care for them, taking away $30 million for highway repairs, delaying expansion of Oregon’s over-crowded women’s prison and much, much more.

Top Democrats say these gut-wrenching cuts won’t all be necessary if their colleagues at the state capitol can agree to raise new revenue in the form of new taxes on hospital services and businesses.

Legislative work groups are crafting plans in private to slow the growth of state costs long-term through reforms to public pension programs and budgeting practices that cause spending to balloon, among other things. Lawmakers are expected to reveal their plans soon, and eventually hold public hearings on the proposals.

The list of proposed spending cuts comes three months after the state’s top budget writers released a rough plan to balance the budget in the absence of new revenue. Monday’s list fills in the details, providing the amount to be cut from each program area, line by line.

But Republicans say the proposed cuts are just scare tactics.

“It’s really just appalling,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “There’s no need to pitch these.”

As vice-chair of the Senate Workforce Committee, Knopp is involved in discussions to reform the state’s public pension system and has introduced a couple of his own proposals.

He said he doesn’t understand why Democrats would release a list of cuts that don’t take into account savings from the various cost-saving measures that his committee and other groups are considering.

Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, is one of the Legislature’s top two budget-writers. He said any long-term spending reforms wouldn’t do much to offset the budget gap in the coming two years. The bulk of the savings would come in later budget cycles, he explained.

Knopp, however, ticked off several proposals to lower state spending on public employees: changing who provides state employee health insurance, making changes to automatic wage increases, reclassifying employees and instituting a targeted hiring freeze. These changes could all save money in the short-term, he said.

“There are dozens of things that could be done that don’t affect programs that Oregonians care about,” he said.

By releasing this “heinous” list of cuts, Knopp said, the Democrats are undermining the Legislature’s ability to work together and reach a compromise – one he sees as including both spending reforms to PERS and other programs, as well as new taxes on businesses.

Devlin said he and fellow budget co-chair Rep. Nancy Nathanson presented the list of cuts to Republicans and Democrats in both chambers before releasing it Monday afternoon.

The co-chairs asked their committee’s 12 subcommittee co-chairs, nine of whom are Democrats, to help them decide exactly where the broad cuts they had laid out should fall. Three Republicans also are subcommittee co-chairs.

“We’re trying to give a very, very clear, very transparent picture of where we are in the budget,” Devlin said of the list.

Currently, this picture doesn’t include a penny of new revenue.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said he and his fellow lawmakers are working on it, but they didn’t want to get ahead of themselves.

The proposed cuts also do not take into account additional revenue projected in March’s state revenue forecast. Instead of factoring in that money, the budget co-chairs say they are waiting for the May forecast, which is traditionally used as the basis for building the budget for the next two years.

“We’re not getting out of here without some cuts,” Courtney said. “We’ve got to get some new revenue. We don’t know how much, and that’s going to vary. We just can’t tell on this day, the 18th of April. But we’re going to have to make cuts regardless.”

Unions blasted the proposed cuts as “devastating,” and called on large corporations to pay their fair share in the form of higher taxes.

Governor Kate Brown praised the work that went into drafting the list, but called the cuts “unacceptable.”

“I am working with my agency directors to contain costs and create savings across the state enterprise,” she said in a statement. “But it will not be enough just to tighten our belts. We must restore fairness to our tax system to be able to protect our children, families, and jobs, and not unduly burden them.”

— Anna Marum

Posted on April 18, 2017

amarum@oregonian.com
503-294-5911
@annamarum