As legislators, one of the most important duties we have is to pass a balanced budget that meets the needs of all Oregonians and reflects our values as a state.
That means funding top priorities like K-12 classrooms, community colleges, senior care, and the programs that grow the economy and keep all of our communities safe and healthy.
This session, I again serve on the budget-writing Ways & Means committee and co-chair the subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development. Starting with a proposal from the Governor, W&M leadership has created a first budge draft. Subcommittees then meet through the session, hearing from state agencies and the public, and reviewing these proposals. Program budgets are finalized which together form the state budget for the two-year biennium.
What we know is that Oregon will have revenue of $1.6 billion less than we need to fund existing programs and current commitments. The Oregon economy is doing well. The problem is that costs (including recently passed ballot measures) are expanding even faster than income.
The Governor proposed a series of budget cuts and new taxes. The legislative budget is based on the money we have – not on the money we wish we had. That means no new taxes but even larger cuts.
Without any additional revenue, this budget gap will mean painful reductions to education, health care, and public safety, three areas which make up more than 90% of the budget. People in every corner of the state will feel the impact of these spending reductions.
Here’s one example: Just last week, I held hearings on our Department of Veterans Affairs. Oregonians voted overwhelmingly for Measure 96 and to spend more on veterans – $18 million more. But they didn’t tell us where the new money would come from. Seven out of ten Oregon veterans are not enrolled in programs to receive the benefits they have earned. I’m committed to better funding their budget. But doing so means cutting other important programs.
I’m fighting to ensure our coastal and rural perspective is heard and recognized in this process. I’m fighting for the needs of students, low-income seniors, working families, and other vulnerable people in our community. But I need your help.
The Ways and Means committee is hosting a series of public forums around the state. We’re visiting Hermiston, Madras, Ashland, Eugene, and Portland.
And I’ve arranged a meeting of the Committee in our own district as well – in Tillamook. This is your chance to tell the entire committee what you prioritize and how we should address this budget challenge. Can I count on you to come out and make your voice heard?
Friday, March 3 — Tillamook
6 to 8 p.m.
Port of Tillamook Bay
6825 Officers Row, Tillamook
We know that there’s no magic solution to creating a budget that protects Oregonians’ priorities. It will require us to improve efficiency in programs where we can, streamline the way we deliver critical services, make difficult decisions about what can’t get funded, and find sustainable ways to support core services.
Remember – the current budget framework is based only on existing resources, with no new taxes. Should tax changes be part of the conversation? We need your opinion on that as well.
The other major issue is PERS – retirement commitments made to public employees 30 years ago. Investment returns did not meet expectations and the state needs to make up the difference. Four years ago, the legislature made major changes in PERS formulas. The Courts rejected those changes and said clearly that past contracts cannot be changed. That provides few options for the legislature to make substantive and fair changes to current and costly retirement obligations.
Big budgets reflect big and often difficult decisions. And I’m involved in those conversations. But I’ve also made a habit of looking at smaller issues and doing what I call “pulling at loose threads”.
One example is the way truck companies pay weight and mile taxes. Many use credit cards, with the single largest payment last year being an astounding $1.9 million dollars – charged by someone with a larger credit limit than I enjoy!
Any small business owner will tell you accepting credit cards involves bank fees. I started asking questions and eventually convinced ODOT to treat these charges the same as we do payments by individual tax payers. The result will be a savings of about $2.5 million each year.
That small change won’t balance the state shortfall. But it is efficient, more fair, and a solid step in the right direction.
In the coming months we will continue to refine budgets, taking into account the feedback and information we receive from you and other Oregonians. In order to continue moving forward we will need everyone to bring their best ideas to the discussion. As always, I look forward to hearing from you!
Out and About in District 10:
With the legislature in session full time until July, I’m not out in our district as much as usual. But I’m still making an effort to be accessible and available. Susan and I attended the Children’s Advocacy dinner in Newport earlier this month, the Arts Desire fundraiser for school art programs in Pacific City, and the annual Sheridan Volunteer Awards Dinner this past weekend.
I also joined Senator Roblan and Tillamook Commissioner Yamamoto for a Town Hall in Neskowin just before session convened. We’ll be at the NOAA Anniversary Dinner in Newport this coming week.
As always, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with questions or suggestions.
Rep. David Gomberg