STATE CUTCACKS WILL BE FELT

January 09, 2002 11:00 pm

Cinch up your belts, Oregonians, and get ready for a rough ride. The revenue run the State of Oregon has been on for the past decade is slowing to a crawl, and some of the services Oregonians have come to depend on are going to take the brunt of the sudden shift in momentum.

No matter what direction the Legislature takes when it convenes in special session next month, the repercussions of the change in the state and national economies is going to be felt. The states general fund provides money for K-12 education, community colleges, higher education, social services and public safety. All will have to bear some cuts for the state to be able to reach the $705 million shortfall that is projected over the course of the next two years.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has developed a starting point for the budget discussions. His budget balancing proposal would cut school funding by 6 percent, community colleges by 8 percent and higher education by 10 percent. The proposal slashes several social service programs, including subsidizing health insurance for low-income families and ending Project Independence for seniors. It would also cut the number of juvenile corrections center beds by 150 and delay the opening of new prison units. Kitzhaber believes the level of cuts required by the downturn in revenue is neither responsible nor politically possible. Next week he plans to submit a proposal that would increase revenue to help offset the projected deficit.

Raising income taxes, even on a temporary basis, isnt politically feasible and wont be unless taxpayers show they are unwilling to accept reduced levels of service. The state will also be looking at new lottery proceeds, of which the governor has been opposed, as well as increasing liquor and cigarette taxes. But the bottom line is that some cuts are going to be necessary, and Oregonians had better brace themselves for some changes. The reality is that the windfall 1990s are over, and the state is going to have to come to grips with the fact it hasnt addressed the need to look at cost-saving measures such as school consolidations, or restructuring our tax system or in making a rainy day fund a priority.

Hold on. The roads going to get a little bumpy.

Any ideas?

The Observer encourages readers to weigh in on the states projected revenue shortfall. Do you have any ideas on how the state should balance the budget? Would it be fair to reduce all budgets by a certain percentage, or should some programs take more of a cut than others? If so, should schools take more than social services or public safety? Or should the Legislature focus on increasing revenue, such as a temporary increase in the income tax?

Send your ideas to The Observer. Well feature your ideas in letters to the editor next Thursday. Please have your letters in by noon Tuesday.