Economic growth only way out of public funding crunch

Written by Observer editorial reports February 09, 2011 03:13 pm
John Kitzhaber, Chris Dudley and others running for state office last year sounded warnings about a monster budget deficit and the certainty that deep spending cuts will need to be made, starting with the next fiscal term. Now the Legislature’s in session and Kitzhaber, the new governor, has presented a budget for the 2011-13 biennium that includes a $114 million reduction for public schools. In the end, the Legislature will decide how deep to cut, but no matter how it turns out, the schools will be badly hurt.
 
In La Grande, district officials figure they’ll have to reduce their 2011-12 budget by $500,000 to $1.2 million. Already the district has enacted a spending freeze for “nonessentials,” and more cuts surely will follow.

The figurative storm the candidates talked about has arrived. And what do you know — it comes at a time when the La Grande High School library roof is, quite literally, leaking like a sieve.

Really. They’re using buckets to catch rain water in the high school library.

 Teachers and administrators who take seriously the job of turning out the best high school graduates possible must be feeling deprived, frustrated, and most of all, abandoned.
 
On the one hand, there’s shrinking state revenues. On the other, there’s the local taxpaying populace arching its back and baring its fangs at the mere mention of the words “option levy.”

If there’s any hope at all, it seems to lie in solid, significant economic development, the kind that starts with jobs for working people, spreads into the retail and housing sectors, and ends with enough revenue in city, county and state coffers to support services.

Ironically  enough, such an opportunity has come up in Union County, and about half the residents are dead set against it. Horizon Wind Energy wants to build a $600 million wind farm on private property near Union, and people — many of the same people who won’t give up a dime in new taxes for schools — are fighting it tooth and nail.

That seems unreasonable at best, foolish at worst. Under the Strategic Investment Program agreement worked out between Horizon and Union County government, the county would realize $40 million in taxes and fees over the life of the project. This is money that can be spent for many purposes throughout the county. Better still, money earmarked for education won’t be taken away by the state in the form of an
offset.

The SIP agreement includes $1.5 million specifically for local schools. It’s not a lot, and it should be more, but it’s at least something for the schools to fall back on some, ahem, rainy day.

With their ungainly appearance, wind turbines aren’t the best thing that could happen to scenic Union County when it comes to economic development. But things could be worse. It’s not like somebody’s come along wanting to clear-cut  Mount Harris, or build a prison at the business park down the road from the university.

Considering the special times we live in, our absolute need to move forward and grow, perhaps wind farm and SIP opponents should soften their positions.

 If not, and they’re successful in halting construction, they owe it to young people to vote yes in the next school levy.