Both of Hood River County’s state legislators have voiced strong opposition to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s veto on Wednesday of two key budget-balancing bills.
Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, believe that Kitzhaber’s action has threatened the future of Oregon’s students by slashing $317 million from primary and secondary education — just three weeks before some schools open.
“What the governor has done is blown up the bridge just as the train is approaching,” Metsger said.
“This governor by himself has decided that he knows better than the rest of us — I don’t think he’s made the argument and this action is totally irresponsible,” Smith said.
On Wednesday evening, Kitzhaber made a televised speech to explain his veto of Senate Bill 1022, which would fund education with $267 million by doubling the first payment in the next budget period and allowing schools to borrow against it. He also vetoed House Bill 4056, which would use cigarette tax revenue to back $50 million in bonds for schools and provide a $175 million safety net if revenues continue to fall.
Officials from the Hood River County School District, Columbia Gorge Community College and Educational Service District 9 believe the only way to avoid severe budget cuts is for lawmakers to override Kitzhaber’s action. The governor is calling all legislators to a fourth special session next Friday. If the House and Senate do not overturn the vetoes, Kitzhaber said he will bring the assembly back to Salem for a fifth special session in early September to confer on his plan to send an income tax increase to voters in November.
Smith is also challenging the fiscal responsibility of having repeated special sessions that cost taxpayers about $16,755 for the first day, including mileage and printing costs, and then $8,000 for each additional day.
Immediately after Kitzhaber’s vetoes, Hood River County School District Superintendent Jerry Sessions, Dr. Pat Evenson-Brady, ESD superintendent, and Dr. Frank Toda, president of CGCC, joined other school officials across the state in the scramble to absorb the deep budget cuts that are now in effect until further notice.
Hood River schools stand to lose $1.4 million, CGCC nearly $500,000 and the ESD about $172,000 — in addition to budget reductions already enacted.
“The cuts will not change our fall schedule of classes,” said Toda. “They will not change our commitment to our community — now expanded to include annexed areas of Hood River County — but they certainly endanger the essence of comprehensive community college services to our constituents.”
Sessions said if the legislative override is unsuccessful the 10 schools in the Hood River district will add the current loss to the $1.2 million in cuts already made this year. He said the school board will meet Wednesday to discuss possible program reductions that could include elementary music classes, middle school sports and $60,000 of extra-curricular activities at the high school level.
“We’re going to be looking at all of the options but this is just not good,” said Sessions.
Evenson-Brady said the ESD, which serves both Hood River and Wasco Counties, will possibly be forced to vacate more than three professional staff positions, necessitating a reduction in services.
During his Aug. 7 speech, Kitzhaber said he vetoed the two bills because they were not “good for Oregon’s future” since they did not provide a long-term solution to budget problems.
However, Smith said the legislature never intended for the bi-partisan plan to overcome the existing $860 million deficit to be the ultimate solution. She said the consensus of the elected House and Senate bodies was to provide immediate financial help to schools and other essential programs and then take a long look at how to bring more family wage jobs to Oregon and ensure its sustainability.
“I, for one, am willing to work on solutions but the governor has initiated the largest cut in funding to our public schools since the state took over their financial backing — and we simply cannot let this kind of reckless action prevail,” said Smith.
Toda agrees that long-term action needs to be taken to solidify educational funding since the override would help schools this fiscal year, but only postpones budget challenges.
“What we really need to do in Oregon is to stabilize the education budget process. How do you run a multi-million dollar organization every year when you can’t depend on stable revenue?” he asked.
Metsger and Smith are already serving on special committees to find a cure for Oregon’s ailing economy.
During that search, they have vowed to guard funding for the youth, elderly and disabled populations.
“In good economic times some of the governor’s actions would have been good, but these are unusual times and you have to take unusual steps to protect Oregon’s most vulnerable populations,” said Metsger.