Budget softens cuts to services
Devlin: 'We felt that we had to shore up those programs'
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Democrat and Republican budgets released March 4 include 10 percent increases in natural resource agency funding, marking the first time in more than a decade they could receive boosts in general funds.
The Democrats' budget also includes $5.7 million more for Oregon State University's statewide public services than what Gov. John Kitzhaber recommended in his budget.
The Republican budget did not address the statewide services.
In a press conference announcing what is known as the co-chairs' budget, Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, said Democrats increased funding for natural resource agencies to shore up a reduction in federal support and halt a continual decline of state support.
"Those programs are important for Oregon. They are important for Oregon's economy. And clearly it is one of the areas of the budget, like education, that has been hit hardest in the last decade," Devlin said. "The federal government has not lessened any of its requirements for the Department of Environmental Quality, but it is continuing to provide less in federal funds to actually meet those requirements.
"We felt that we had to shore up those programs," he said.
In a press conference later on March 4, Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, also spoke to the importance of funding natural resource agencies.
"In certain areas that have been unfairly suppressed for too long, such as natural resources, higher education, community colleges and K-12, those got a bump (in the Republican budget), and some of them dramatically, in order to ensure that they have a new starting point for the future," Richardson said.
"Oregon has historically been a natural resource state, and we need to recognize that the rural parts of this state are still in recession and have been for 20 years," Richardson said. "We need to reinvest in ways to help the economies in the rural parts of our state to grow," Richardson said.
Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said she is waiting to see how the Legislature treats natural resource agencies in their final budget, but praised the initial budgets.
"Over the last decade, there has been a decline of support for the natural resources agencies, and the governor tried to make a reversal of that decline in his recommended budget," Coba said.
"To have the Legislature come out and support the governor's decision to do that and recognize the importance of the natural resources agencies to support Oregon's natural-resource economy is very, very positive, and it is a great step," she said.
The Democrats' add-back for OSU statewide public services closes the gap between what Kitzhaber allocated the statewides in his budget and what he allocated the Oregon University System. It nevertheless keeps the statewides below the 7 percent increase provided the university system in Kitzhaber's budget.
OSU administrators have said they need 7 percent increase, or $7 million more than their 2011-13 budget, to maintain existing service levels for the statewides.
Neither the co-chairs' nor the Republican budgets included information on $22 million in water development funds that Kitzhaber recommended in his budget, but Devlin said lawmakers view the investment favorably.
"Those projects are pretty close to the top of the list of what the co-chairs determine to be viable projects," Devlin said.
With the two parties separated by $400 million on public employee retirement system reform savings, it is questionable whether either party will be able to push through its proposals without considerable compromise.
The sizable differences also indicate that neither budget will survive as proposed and that a settlement might not be reached for months to come.
Total general fund and lottery fund expenditures are $16.2 billion in the Republican budget and $16.51 billion in the Democratic budget.
"The (Democrat) budget is balanced on assumed tax increases, assumed cuts to our corrections system and cosmetic PERS measures that merely kick the can down the road," House Republican Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte said.