State Representative Brad Witt shares his thoughts on the majority budget released late last week and talks about his take on the potential impacts:
Each Session, the Legislature's number one task, constitutionally, is the development of a state budget for the next two years. This week the House and Senate Co-Chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee released their proposed budget for the 2013-15 biennium. This budget is the Legislature's response to the Governor's Recommended Budget, which came out in December, and it is our chance to further study and fine tune the Governor's recommendations. The Co-chairs, have characterized this as the "Turning Point" budget, a turning point because economic forecasts have begun to show that Oregon is slowly but surely climbing up out of the recession.
For me, the proposed $6.75 billion in school funding is the budget highlight – nearly $1 billion in additional resources and savings above what schools had in 2011-13. After years of instability that caused drastic cuts to schools, teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, and shortened school years, I'm thankful to see a budget that stabilizes school funding and allows us to begin rebuilding our education system. After all, we are preparing the next generation and we want them to have every opportunity that is reasonably available to make them successful.
The budget also includes critical investments in job creation, health care, human services, public safety and other priorities including:
Renewing the hospital self-assessment to deliver health care to 220,000 additional Oregonians Increasing community mental health programs for children and young adults Maintaining funding for Head Start and other early childhood education
In order to realize improved funding for schools and services, there are a number of difficult decisions that will need to be made. It will mean strict budgeting, increased efficiencies within government, savings from PERS and revenue from targeted reductions in tax expenditures. This would break out as follows:
$275 million in total new resources $455 million in PERS adjustments $278 million in staffing, services/supplies and tax collections
Next, the Ways and Means Sub-committees will begin working on each aspect of this budget. There will be many different perspectives in play as we go through this tedious process, but there will also be plenty of opportunity for input. If we really intend to put more money into education and hold other vital services harmless, then we are going to have to work together for the good of the order. We did it last session when the House was split 30/30; I know we can do it again.