Hood River’s state legislators are recovering from a marathon session to overcome an $860 million deficit in Oregon’s budget.
Last Saturday both Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, spent 20 hours in Salem in a balancing act to patch up the budget without losing programs or burdening taxpayers.
Metsger was able to secure $219,000 for Hood River County schools since he insisted on $10 million of restoration in education funding before he would cast the deciding vote on the budget balancing plan.
“This will allow us to avoid additional budget cuts and undo some cuts already made,” said Jerry Sessions, school superintendent.
Metsger also worked with Sen. John Minnis, R-Wood Village, to raise another $20 million for education by leveraging two cents of a proposed 60-cent spike in the tobacco tax for bonds. Voters will decide on the cigarette tax at a special election in mid-September.
“I’ve always said that education is my number one priority. When I got the opportunity, I wanted to do everything I could to make my vote count for our schools and for children,” said Metsger.
Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, also voted to send the cigarette tax to the voters, believing they should have the final voice on any money taken out of their pockets. Both she and Metsger lobbied successfully to restore “critical” funding to the Oregon State Extension Service and the Agricultural Experiment Station, key partners with the local agricultural community.
Smith said the latest round of budget adjustments may solve some short-term problems but greater focus needs to be given by the legislature on long-term fixes for Oregon’s economy. She said this is specially so since revenue forecasts are showing that the shortfall for 2003-05 may pass the $1 billion mark.
“Hopefully we have addressed the problems facing the Hood River schools for now but we need to look for some long term answers for all of Oregon soon,” Smith said.
Smith currently serves on a House task force charged with finding ways to boost job creation and the economy, something she believes is vital since Oregon’s unemployment rate currently ranks first in the nation.
Other key components of the package the Legislature passed include:
* No increase in income taxes;
* Continued participation in the federal Economic Stimulus Package;
* Referral of a modified “rainy day” fund fro schools which will provide $150 million in immediate help. Voters will decide on the measure in September;
* A phase-in of Ballot Measure 88, which raised the amount of federal tax that citizens may deduct on their state income tax;
* Almost $30 million in selected cuts that exempt K-12 education.
In the three special sessions this year, the Legislature had to deal with a nearly $1.2 billion deficit in the 2001-03 budget.