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Spending needs new priority list

By ROSS DAY

You probably aren’t aware of this, but May 15 is a big day in the state of Oregon. Actually, it’s a big day for the politicians working in the state capitol building. You see, that is the day that the state economist will release the May revenue forecast. What this means is that on May 15, the state economist will tell legislators and the governor how much money they have to spend for the next biennium.

The release of the May 15 revenue forecast typically begins the biannual dance that many people refer to as “budget negotiations.” This year, however, especially in the Salem-Keizer School District, the revenue forecast will have particularly substantial consequences.  Already, many educators, assistants, and other employees of the Salem-Keizer School District have learned that they will likely lose their jobs, regardless of what revenue the state economist forecasts in May.

There are many aspects of Oregon’s budget process that drive me crazy. As is the case with any budget, whether it be your personal budget, your business’ budget, or any other budget you deal with, the items that get funded first are typically the highest priority items. For instance, as a homeowner, the first thing that I make sure gets paid every month is my mortgage. After all, I want to make sure that I have a roof over my family’s head.

But in Oregon, we budget differently. The politicians routinely tell us that education is their number one priority. If that were true, the education budget would be the first budget passed in every legislative session. But the fact is that the education budget is frequently the last budget passed.

Why is that?

One answer: politics.

And I know it may come as a surprise to you that politics plays part in the legislative process, but it does. And your children are used as political footballs. Typically speaking, the last budget that gets passed by the legislature is the education budget. That means that the budgets for all the other “critically important” state agencies—like the super-important Columbia River Gorge Commission—get funded before our schools get funded.

The reason for this is simple: by spending all of the money Oregon has on these other agencies, the hope of the “pro-government lobby” is that politicians will feel the political pressure necessary to raise taxes in order to fund their stated priority – education.

Put another way, if the first budget passed by the legislature is the K-12 budget, legislators will have no incentive to pass budgets for other, less politically popular state agencies.  What politician is going to want to fall on his or her sword for the Oregon Blueberry Commission?

In the past, politicians who typically support the expansion of state government (most notably the last two governors) have refused to pass the education budget until the budgets for the other state agencies have been signed into law.

The end result of this unfortunate game is an increase in the cost of government to you, the taxpayer.  This is the budget dance that occurred throughout the last decade, and the result is self-evident.  We have a state government that is too costly and extremely ineffective.

Now why would anyone want to fund that type of government ahead of our schools?  I know that isn’t my priority.

Ross Day lives in Keizer.