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Governor sued over severe OSU program cuts

Gov. John Kitzhaber has been legally challenged for making $81 million in program cuts that critics say could dramatically decrease agricultural services to Hood River County.

Of local concern is Kitzhaber's intent to slash $23 million from the Oregon State University budget, which would cut funding in fiscal year 2003 by 50 percent at the Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Clark Seavert, superintendent and economic specialist for the research center, said if Kitzhaber's plan comes to fruition it will mean a loss of about $400,000 in state dollars that will necessitate severe cutbacks in both staffing and services. In addition, Seavert said it could start a domino effect of lost funding since other federal and state matching grants would be lost.

"Our real concern is that if we take that kind of a cut, the ground that we've been trying to gain over the past few years could be gone," said Seavert.

For the last 14 years, scientists at the research center have worked closely with the local agricultural industry to improve production and find environmentally-safe methods of disease and pest control. In addition, the center studies ways to improve fruit quality during storage and marketing techniques to increase sales.

Seavert said recent technological advances gained from that research will soon make site-specific management possible and allow growers to graph the type of soil and water content on their land so that fertilizer and water amounts can be adjusted by individual plots instead of being applied uniformly. According to Seavert, those gains will help farmers streamline costs in a highly competitive market and reduce spray levels.

Also on the chopping block at the OSU Extension Office, housed in the same complex at 3005 Experiment Station Drive, would be some staff positions and local 4-H, horticulture, economic, nutrition and community development programs.

Both Seavert and Billie Stevens, staff chair for the extension office, will be awaiting the results of a lawsuit filed this week by plaintiffs that include the Oregonians for Food and Shelter and the Oregon Health Care Association. That court action claims the governor exceeded his constitutional powers by not making across-the-board reductions in all public services instead of targeting only a few programs.

"At that point in time we're not going to project how these cuts will be taken," said Stevens.

Meanwhile, OSU administrators have told all faculty members in the agricultural sciences to prepare for both the "worst case" scenario or a smaller across-the-board reduction of between five and 10 percent. That will also bring some downsizing at the research station which currently staffs 17-full time workers and the extension office which currently has five full time and three part-time employees.

"When it all settles down and the politicking is over I think common sense will prevail and we'll end up with some cuts but not so severe they'll devastate our offices," said Seavert.

Kitzhaber is the first Oregon governor to make major cuts by picking and choosing between programs. He made those proposals after vetoing part of a budget-balancing plan passed the lawmakers' special session that ended March 2. He is expected to call legislators back into special session after the next revenue forecast is issued on June 1.

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