August 12, 2002 11:00 pm

Gov. John Kitzhaber has learned his civic lessons well during his time in politics. When the budget gets tight, you always cut the funds that get the public worked up the most.

In city government you always cut public safety first. In county government you always cut public safety first. But in Oregon's case, you always cut education. These are the places that make the public go wild with emotion; the areas that invoke our fears the most — concerns over personal safety and the future of our children.

In most cases we might want to call the governor all kinds of names. But this time around the governor is both right and wrong. He is right to be the single voice in government to say we are wrong to borrow money for today's education from future funds. He is right that Oregonians need to stop in their tracks and decide how education (kindergarten through higher education) in this state is going to be funded over the next 25 to 50 years.

Kitzhaber is right that neither Democrats nor Republican legislators have been willing to buck a few far-right radio talk show hosts and a few anti-tax conservatives to create an educational plan that will take this state's children into the future. Unfortunately, he is wrong to think that less than four weeks before Oregon's public schools start back into session that vetoing $317 million in critical funding for this year is the right answer. Calling the Legislature back into session to either override his vetoes or to refer some quick-fix financial package won't get Oregon out of the crisis in which both education and our government finances are mired.

What we need is to have the Legislature — are you listening Mark Simmons, David Nelson, Kate Brown, Karen Minnis, and the other current leaders? — establish a blue ribbon panel to completely overhaul Oregon's failed system. They need to consider merging all universities, community colleges and K-12 into a super department of education with the goal of preparing our young citizens.

Everything should be on the line, from consolidation of dying school districts to retirement plans to how we finance all levels of education. The first thing out of the Legislature should be a referral to revoke both Measures 5 and 50. Even though both these property tax reduction measures won overwhelming approval and were needed at the time they passed, the eventual fallout from both measures has proven to be too much for Oregon to handle.

There is no reason to start casting blame either on the governor or the current Legislature. The problem with the way the state funds education predates them all by a dozen years or more. What we need is leadership to make sure that the future is brighter for all of Oregon's citizens — those who pay the taxes and those who receive the benefits.